BEIRUT - A massive explosion has rocked central Beirut, sending a mushroom cloud of dust into the air, and reportedly leaving at least 70 dead and thousands injured.

The explosion appeared to take place in the Lebanese capital’s port area, which is right next to the central Downtown area of the city.

Nearby buildings were severely damaged, with windows blown in and streets covered in shattered glass.

Crowds of stunned people, many of them wounded, gathered outside hospitals in Beirut.

Lebanon’s Health Minister Hamad Hasan said the explosion has caused a “very high number of injuries” and extensive damage.

AFP news agency, quoting a security source, has reported that ”dozens” have been hurt, but citing the Lebanese Health Ministry, the Al-Mayadeen channel said the number could be in the hundreds.

“I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street,” a witness told Reuters.

The aftershock was felt in the mountains above Beirut, at least 13 miles away, and was so strong it blew out doors and windows in buildings across the city.

The army has reportedly sent reinforcements to the port.

It is unclear what caused the explosion, but Lebanon’s state news agency NNA and two security sources said the blast had occurred in the port area where there are warehouses housing explosives.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blast or what kind of explosives were in the warehouses.(FA)