A fuel tanker explosion in Akkar in northern Lebanon has killed at least 20 people and severely injured many more.
The Lebanese Red Cross took to Twitter to report that the explosion occurred early Sunday morning.
At least 79 people were injured and were being taken to local hospitals.
An employee at an Akkar hospital, Yassine Metlej, said that the facility had received at least seven corpses and dozens of burn victims.
Speaking to AFP, he says that the bodies are “so charred that we can’t identify them:.
“Some have lost their faces, others their arms.”
He said the hospital had to turn away most of the wounded because it is unable to treat severe burns. Severe overcrowding of patients has also been reported at various hospitals. Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan instructed hospitals across the country “to receive the wounded from the painful tragedy in Akkar’s al-Talil at the ministry’s expense and without reluctance.”
Hundreds of Akkar residents flocked to the blast site which was cordoned off by the army early Sunday morning. Soldiers and rescuers were sweeping the area for missing people and survivors.
A military and security source spoke to Reuters and said that the explosion took place as the Lebanese army was distributing gasoline from a confiscated fuel storage tanker.
The official National News Agency said the explosion took place following scuffles between “residents that gathered around the tank to fill up gasoline”.
It said the army had left the area before the fight and the explosion.
Witnesses said about 200 people were nearby at the time of the explosion.
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has called for an investigation into the circumstances that led to the blast.
The Lebanese army seized thousands of liters of gasoline and diesel that distributors had stockpiled at different stations.
Fuel shortages have left many with just two hours of electricity a day, while several hospitals have recently warned they may have to close due to power outages.
The Akkar explosion comes less than two weeks after Lebanon marked the first anniversary of a blast at Beirut port last summer that killed more than 200 people.