Powerful Explosions Rock Lebanon's Capital Beirut: What We Know So Far

The explosions were said to have been caused by 2740 tonnes of ammonium nitrate - a highly explosive fertiliser.

Lebanon's capital city Beirut was rocked by massive explosions on Tuesday evening, killing at least 100 people and injuring more than 4000.

The blast, which took place at Beirut port, sent shockwaves throughout the city, as a giant mushroom cloud appeared.

Soon after, shocking visuals of the explosions filled the internet, which showed people taking the videos ducking for cover as shockwaves from the blast hit them from major distances.

Trigger Warning: This article contains videos of the blast, along with images and footage of the aftermath. Viewer's discretion is advised.

100 Dead, 4000 Injured: Says Red Cross General Secretary

George Kettaneh, Secretary General of the Lebanese Red Cross, told the Lebanese National News Agency on Wednesday that the death toll currently stands at 100, with more than 4000 injured from the blast.

The official death toll has been rising steadily since yesterday evening, and is expected to rise further with more and more bodies being recovered from the rubble and many wounded succumbing to their injuries.

The news agency also reported that Nizar Najarian, the secretary general of Kataen - the Lebanese Phalangist Party, was among those who lost their lives, after a blow to the head from the blast impact, while he was at the party headquarters 1km away from the blast.

2750 Tonnes Of Ammonium Nitrate, Claims Lebanese PM

According to a post from the official handle of the Lebanese Presidency, the explosion was caused by 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate - a highly explosive chemical used as fertiliser - which was allegedly stored in a warehouse for 6 years without any safety measures.

The handle tweeted out a quote from Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab as saying, "I will not be satisfied until we find the person responsible for what happened, to hold him accountable and impose the most severe penalties on him, because it is unacceptable that a shipment of "ammonium nitrate" estimated at 2750 tonnes has been present for 6 years in a warehouse without any precautionary measures being taken."

The explosion took place in two of the warehouses at Beirut port, and the impact spread out to several kilometers from the blast epicentre. According to the National News Agency, there was a fire at the warehouse before the blast.

In the footage of the blast, a series of smaller explosions can be seen, which creates a massive smoke could, following which the gigantic explosion occurs which sends shockwaves ripping through the city.

While ammonium nitrate has now been reported as the chemical responsible for the explosion, the events that led to its ignition is still not clear. Lebanese authorities are currently investigating the matter to ascertain if this was an accident or whether there was any foul play.

This is hardly the first time ammonium nitrate was found to be the cause of a human-made disaster.

On April 16, 1947, approximate 2000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was detonated onboard a French-registered vessel SS Grancamp, docked at the Port Of Texas City. The incident, known as the Texas City Disaster, reportedly claimed at least 581 lives.

The Oklahoma City Bombing, perpetrated by United States domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols on April 19, 1995, was reportedly carried out using ammonium nitrate as the key explosive ingredient. The blast claimed at least 168 lives.

"I thought it was an earthquake at first"

Sarah Sader, a resident of Beirut, was at at her home across the American Embassy - around 10km away from the blast epicenter - when the fire broke out. "I thought I heard the sound of Israeli war planes but I didn't think much of it," she told BOOM.

When the explosion occurred, Sader first felt the tremors before she heard the sound.

"My house started shaking and I thought it was an earthquake at first. I started looking for the safest place to hide and at this point I was already freaking out. That's when I heard the explosion. It was so brutal and it felt so close that I thought it happened in a street nearby. I started panicking and ran inside (I was on my balcony). It felt like a bombing. Some vases fell and shattered on the floor of my house.

What happened is a catastrophe. People lost their lives. People lost their homes. Hospitals are full. Beirut is destroyed. I also can't help but think about the health consequences from this substance that just spread across the country."

- Sarah Sader, resident of Beirut

Several local reporters also took to Twitter with images and videos, to demonstrate the extent of damage caused by the blast.

"We were saving the wounded next to the dead bodies"

Videos and images of the blast and its aftermath reveal a dire situation in the capital of Lebanon, with many losing their homes and shops near the port. The port itself looked completely devastated. The images of the streets and alleys near the port seem filled with debris from the blast, and also show severe damage to vehicles in the street.

BBC reported Beirut's governer Mawan Aboud as saying that as many as 300,000 people have been left homeless after the blast.

With the number of wounded piling up through the evening, hospitals were overwhelmed and functioning past their capacities. Hanna Fahed, Rheumatology fellow at Hotel-Dieu de France hospital in Beirut, told BOOM that the emergency room resembled a war-like situation, with blood everywhere.

"We were saving the wounded next to the dead bodies, as there was not enough space to keep them separate. If we couldn't save someone with CPR, and he/she died, we just moved the body and put someone directly in that place. Surgeons were even operating in the hallway," Fahed said.

The sound of the explosion was heard as far as Nicosia in Cyprus, which is approximately 240km away from the blast epicenter. Seismologists at the United States Geological Survey reported that the blast was as powerful as an earthquake of 3.3 magnitude on the Richter scale.

It is said to be the most power explosion seen in Beirut - a city which has seen several civil wars, major conflicts and terror attacks over the past century. According to the National News Agency, PM Diab declared August 5 as a national day of morning.

The Lebanese presidency handle on Twitter stated that President Michael Aoun had called an emergency meeting of the Supreme Defence Council, which declared Beirut as a disaster city, declared a state of emergency for a period of two weeks and instructed the military to provide relief aid.

The blast is said to have severely hit Lebanon's grain reserves, which were stored in grain silos near the port. The Lebanese Presidency Twitter account also stated that the Port of Tripoli - another important Lebanese port - would be prepared to bring in wheat to overcome the damage.

Updated On: 2020-08-24T18:53:05+05:30
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