BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The U.S. Embassy was torn apart Monday by a terrorist bomb, but the destruction reminded some west Beirut residents of Israeli air attacks on the capital.
'The last time I saw such massive damage was during Israel's air strikes on west Beirut last summer,' a Lebanese soldier said, pointing to the collapsed building and smoldering concrete and metal.
'Look what it did,' he said of the blast, which the radio of Lebanon's Christian militias said was caused by 300 pounds of explosives in a truck driven into the front of the building.
The embassy faces the Mediterranean Sea, which is bordered by a broad promenade that is normally a favorite spot for families picnicking on the weekend.
After the explosion hulks of burning cars and other debris littered the waterfront. Dismembered, blackened bodies lay on the street beside uprooted palm trees.
The middle of the roughly C-shaped building was shaved off two rooms deep. Slabs of concrete and loose iron bars hunge menacingly from the side of the cream-colored structure.
With flames and smoke billowing out of the ground floor, survivors on the building's top seventh floor handed down briefcases with sensitive documents to U.S. Marine guards below.
'It ripped out eight front offices and the snack bar, which must have had 15 or 20 people in it,' said Kurt Shafer, an embassy foreign aid officer. 'It was bad that it happened at lunchtime.'
'There was security for the embassy,' said Shafer, who escaped through a blown out window in the back of the building. 'But a madman can just pull up a car, push a button and you can do nothing about it.'
Shafer was knocked out of his chair by the blast, which sent glass and rubble showering into the street and set fire to at least 10 vehicles outside.
For embassy maintenance technician Mike Joseph, 'everything was quiet ... okay ... it was a nice day' when he arrived at the compound overlooking the blue Mediterranean about 12:45 p.m., minutes before the blast.
'When the 'bam' came, nobody knew what happened. I went crazy. I completely blanked out. Everybody looked at themselves to see if they were alive,' said Joseph, a tall Texan wearing cowboy boots.
Almost 100 Marines in the multinational peace-keeping force were rushed into the area from their base in the south of Beirut.
The Marines, assisted by French peace-keepers and Lebanese soldiers, formed a ring around the smoking ruins of the embassy to keep away frantic relatives of embassy's many Lebanese employees.
Some of the relatives threw themselves to the ground in grief after seeing the extent of the damage.
A U.S. helicopter carrier and a destroyer sped around the end of the peninsula of west Beirut. The destroyer, with its formidable array of firepower, remained offshore from the embassy.
Cranes lifted chunks of concrete as rescue teams climbed through rubble in search of survivors.
'The structural damage is massive, and the central section of the building could very well collapse altogether,' a rescue worker said. 'The main pillars are blown away from the impact of the blast.'
At the American University hospital, ambulances carrying the wounded rushed in 'every minute,' UPI freelance photographer Pierre Sabbagh said. 'The hospital is a disaster area.'
At the hospital's main emergency room, dozens of doctors, nurses and rescue workers treated the casualties.
Blood-stained and bandaged embassy employees and residents of nearby buildings sat in shock in the hospital corridors.
Among the injured were young coeds from the nearby American University of Beirut whose faces and arms were slashed by shattering glass as they sat in their dormitory rooms.