Beirut reels and anger grows in mass devastation

A bride poses for photographs in a city square at the moment the blast strikes the nearby port of Beirut.

This was the most powerful explosion ever to hit the Lebanese capital, already scarred by years of civil war, bombing and assassinations. It sent a mushroom cloud into the sky and could be heard as far away as Cyprus.

More than 135 people are now believed killed and thousands injured, and the toll is expected to rise as rescuers comb the debris. Not only are hospitals are overwhelmed, but three were put out of action by the explosion itself.

Swathes of the city are damaged, even ruined, and tens of thousands of people have no home fit to live in.

Grief -- and disbelief -- are already mixed with anger.

Initial investigations are pointing toward years of inaction and negligence as the cause.

Highly explosive materials were stored at the port for six years without safety measures, according to President Michel Aoun, who toured the site Wednesday.

2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and bombs.

An inspection six months ago found it could, quote, "blow up all Beirut" if not removed, a source close to a port employee told Reuters.

A fire started at a warehouse on Tuesday, it's not clear yet how, then it spread to the one that stored the substance, which ignited.

Lebanon's cabinet has decided to place all port officials who oversaw storage and security since 2014 under house arrest.

But it wasn't clear how high up the seniority ladder that order would reach.

And the port's general manager said customs and security had long asked authorities to remove the material but "nothing happened."

Ordinary Lebanese, who even before this had lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in a financial crisis, are blaming politicians who have overseen decades of state corruption and bad governance.

This is Gemmayzeh street; usually chic, full of bars and restaurants.

This bakery owner says he lived through the war, but has never seen anything like this. How cheap is a human being in this country, he asks. "Beirut was destroyed in an instant."

This priest was live-streaming mass when the blast hit -- Beirut was also under lockdown because coronavirus cases were rising.

The intensity of the blast threw victims into the sea where rescue teams tried to recover bodies.

Many of those killed were port and custom employees, people working in the area or driving in the rush hour.