At least 135 people were killed and thousands of others injured after two massive explosions at the Beirut port warehouse, where about 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were stored. The investigators alleged the possible negligence in the storage of tonnes of a highly explosive fertilizer in a waterfront warehouse. The Lebonan Government ordered the house arrest of several port officials.
According to a report by Science Alert, “Experts told that the blast likely had an explosive yield of several hundred tons of TNT equivalent.” Some experts have estimated the explosive yield for what happened in Beirut to be one to two kilotons, which would make the blast potentially more powerful than some of the smaller US tactical nukes.
What happened in Beirut Port?
A massive explosion took place at the Beirut port on Tuesday 18:00 hrs (15:00 GMT) after a fire at the port which sent a shock wave throughout the downtown city. Videos of the blast, which went viral on social media showed smoke fill out from the warehouse on the waterfront before a huge explosion produced a dome-shaped cloud that covered that section of the city centre. The force of the blast did enormous damage to the surrounding neighbourhoods. It overspread the city in rubble and ash for miles around.
Local media footage showed people trapped beneath debris, wrecked cars and blast-damaged buildings.
The second blast shot an enormous orange fireball into the sky, shortly followed by a tornado-like shockwave that crushed the port and shattered glasses on windows across the city.
Red Cross along with the Lebanese health ministry, is working on setting up morgues. A search and rescue operation is still underway to locate the more than 100 missing people, with more than 5,000 injured and the number might increase.
Hamad Hassan, Lebanon’s Public Health Minister, said the national health sector was in short of beds and lacked the equipment necessary to treat the injured and provide requisite medical care for patients in a critical condition. He added that he is afraid that the death toll might rise further.
The blast was also felt 240km (150 miles) away on the Cyprus’ capital Nicosia, eastern Mediterranean, and was registered by seismologists as the equivalent of a 3.3-magnitude earthquake.
According to the Beirut’s Governor, Marwan Abboud about three lakh people are left homeless with damages amounting anywhere from 10-15 billion dollars. He further added that the authorities are working to provide food and temporary shelter to the displaced.
What caused the explosion?
Officials say the blast occurred when a fire at a warehouse on the city’s waterfront ignited a stockpile of explosive ammonium nitrate that was stored after unloading from a ship seized at the port in 2013—however, authorities investigating probe alleged negligence in storing dangerous chemicals.
Another set bleak tale of chronic negligence started over six years ago, when a troubled and indebted, Russian-leased vessel and its volatile cargo ship made an unscheduled stop at the city’s port. It ended on Tuesday in multiple giant explosion.
The ship was in bad condition, crewed by irritable sailors and dogged by a small hole in its hull that meant water had to be continuously pumped out. The ship carried a volatile cargo, more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, a flammable material used to make fertilizers — and bombs — that was destined for Mozambique.
The ship, the Rhosus, arrived in Beirut in 2013 never made it to the destination as it was entangled in a financial and diplomatic dispute, causing to be abandoned by the Russian businessman who had leased it. The ammonium nitrate inside the ship was transferred to a dockside warehouse in Beirut and exploded on Tuesday.
The story of the ship and its deadly cargo, which emerged on Wednesday in accounts from Lebanon, Russia and Ukraine, offered a bitter tale about how legal battles, financial bickering and, apparently, prolonged negligence, set the stage for a horrific occurrence that devastated one of the Middle East’s most fondly regarded cities.
Senior customs officials wrote to the Lebanese courts at least six times from 2014 to 2017, seeking guidance on how to dispose of the ammonium nitrate, according to public records posted to social media by a Lebanese lawmaker, Salim Aoun.
The customs officials had suggested several solutions including donating the ammonium nitrate to the Lebanese Army, or selling it to the privately-owned Lebanese Explosives Company. However, judiciary failed to respond to the same.
What is ammonium nitrate?
It is a chemical compound predominantly used in agriculture as a high-nitrogen fertilizer. It is also used to make explosives and was used in the 1995 Oklahoma City attack.
Who is the primary suspect?
The Lebanese Government questioned why the explosive chemicals were stored at the port. Authorities haven’t said what caused the fire but have said it wasn’t an attack. No one has claimed responsibility for the fire or the explosion. However, President Donald Trump on Tuesday called it a “terrible attack” and that the US military generals told him a “bomb of some kind might cause the powerful explosion.”
COVID-19 in Lebanon
The explosion came at a sensitive time for Lebonan, as a rising number of Coronavirus cases have strained the country’s healthcare system. On Tuesday, 177 new cases were reported, and with the steady rise in the cases, the hospitals were already struggling to cope. Many of Beirut’s hospitals were quickly overwhelmed after the blast, owing to the country’s poor infrastructure and the already strained resources that were devoted to fighting the pandemic.
Moreover, Lebanon is also going through an economic crisis. Even so, the imported food and large quantities of grain stored in the port have been destroyed, causing fears of widespread scarcity of food to come.
The future of the port itself is in doubt due to the destruction caused. Many building and homes have been reduced to an uninhabitable mess of glass, and as many as 300,000 people have been left homeless, Beirut’s governor Marwan Aboud said.
President Aoun announced that the Government would release 100 billion lire (66 million US dollar) of emergency funds. Still, the impact of the blast on the economy is expected to prevail for long.
Situation in Lebanon Now:
Lebanon’s already fragile economy has worsened rapidly amid lockdowns imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The value of the country’s currency has plunged in recent months, and its overtaxed power system has plummeted the capital of Beirut into darkness for hours at a time. According to the International Monetary Fund, the economy of Lebonan is expected to contract by 12 per cent this year.
Lebanon’s cabinet has announced a two-week state of emergency in the capital and handed control of security in the city to the military.
The explosion comes at a time of escalating tension between Hezbollah and Israel, causing more instability in the nation.
“This is a real catastrophe. What we’ve seen is cataclysmic,” said Sami Nader, Director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs report Aljazeera.
Lebanese response to the explosion and current economic and political crisis:
Many blame the ruling elite who have dominated politics for years and amassed their wealth while failing to carry out the extensive reforms necessary to solve the country’s problems. In 2019 massive protests erupted in Lebanon denouncing the Government for corruption and mismanagement.
In April of this year, the protestors took to the street again amid the coronavirus as the financial crisis heaped economic pressure on ordinary Lebanese people. People have to deal with daily power cuts, a lack of safe drinking water and limited public healthcare.
The Lebanon government is now under intense tension as the political, economic and explosion leave them with criticism from all sides.