At least 28 people were killed and 79 injured when a fuel tank exploded in Akkar in northern Lebanon, the health ministry said.
The explosion occurred early on Sunday morning.
Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan said the worst cases of burns probably needed quick treatment abroad to save their lives.
Yassine Metlej, an employee at an Akkar hospital, said the facility had received at least seven corpses and dozens of burn victims.
“The corpses are so charred that we can’t identify them,” he told AFP.
“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.
A military and a security source told the Reuters news agency that the explosion took place as the Lebanese army was distributing gasoline from a hidden fuel storage tanker it had confiscated.
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.
The blast comes as Lebanon faces a severe fuel shortage that has been blamed on smuggling, hoarding and the cash-strapped government’s inability to secure deliveries of imported fuel.
The crisis deteriorated dramatically this week after the central bank decided to end subsidies for fuel products – a decision that will likely lead to price hikes of almost all commodities in Lebanon, already in the throes of soaring poverty and hyperinflation.
On Saturday, Lebanese troops deployed to petrol stations, forcing owners to sell fuel to customers. Some station owners have been refusing to sell, waiting to make gains when prices increase with the end of subsidies. The Lebanese army has also been cracking down on smugglers active along the Syrian border, confiscating thousands of litres of gasoline over the past few days.
The explosion on Sunday was the deadliest in the country since an August 4, 2020, blast at Beirut’s port killed at least 214, wounded thousands and destroyed parts of the capital.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri drew a link between the Akkar and Beirut explosions in a statement shared on Twitter.
“The Akkar massacre is not different from the port massacre,” he said.
“If this was a country that respects its people, its officials would resign, from the president to the very last person responsible for this neglect.”