OTTAWA -- An Ottawa city councillor who grew up in Lebanon says a massive explosion in Beirut is "heartbreaking, to say the least."

Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, who moved to Canada from Lebanon as a teenager, tells CTV News at Six he still has family there.

"I still have a lot of family back there and in a country as fragile as Lebanon, you can't help but think of all the people, the thousands of injured, the death, the children. I've never seen anything like it," he said.

As of Tuesday evening, more than 70 people were killed and more than 3,000 were injured when an explosion damaged buildings across the Lebanese capital, destroyed much of the city's port, and sent massive plumes of smoke and a mushroom cloud into the sky.

The cause of the blast was not immediately known. The explosion appears to have been centred on a warehouse in the port area.

"It's just heartbreaking to see the beautiful city of Beirut blown away the way it was," El-Chantiry said.

Eli El-Chantiry

The councillor says most of his family lives in the Beqaa area of Lebanon, in the eastern part of the country, but some of his nieces and nephews work or go to school in Beirut.

"Thank God this time of year is not a university season," he said.

The blast struck with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany's geosciences centre GFZ.

The explosion overwhelmed a country already struggling with both the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic crisis.

El-Chantiry said he's heard stories of people too afraid of COVID-19 to seek medical treatment in hospital.

"It's not easy to manage it. Help is definitely going to be needed from the European countries, Canada and the United States. I just hope they all step up and help those people," El-Chantiry said.

Canada's foreign minister, François-Philippe Champagne, tweeted that Canada stands with the Lebanese community.

El-Chantiry said he's thankful for the outpouring of support from all over the world for the people of Beirut.

"The world is one place, really," he said. "I learned about it through a Twitter feed before my brother, who lives in Beqaa Valley, heard about it, so you can see how connected we are and the news travels so fast.

"I just want to wish the people, the injured, a quick recovery and my heart goes to the family of those who lost their lives. If anything we can ask from our Canadian residents, just to pray for those people."

With files from The Associated Press.