AN OFFICIAL with the Lebanese Red Cross says that at least 100 people were killed and more than 4,000 wounded in the massive explosion in Beirut on Tuesday. The official, George Kettaneh, says, the toll could rise further. Blast in Beirut’s port appeared to have been triggered by a fire. It was the most powerful explosion ever seen in the city, which has endured civil war, conflicts with Israel and terror attacks. Residents of Beirut awoke to a scene of utter devastation on Wednesday, a day after a massive explosion at the port sent shock waves across the Lebanese capital, killing dozens of people and wounding thousands.
Smoke was still rising from the port, where a towering grain silos had been shattered. Major downtown streets were littered with debris and damaged vehicles, and building facades were blown out. At hospitals across the city people had been waiting all night for news of loved ones who had gone missing or were wounded. Others posted requests for help online.
Authorities said Tuesday that at least 70 people were killed and 3,000 wounded, with the toll likely to rise as more bodies are being pulled from the rubble. It was the most powerful explosion ever seen in the city, which was on the front lines of the 1975-1990 civil war and has endured conflicts with neighbouring Israel and periodic bombings and terror attacks. “L’Apocalypse,” read the front page of Lebanon’s ‘French L’Orient Le Jour’ newspaper. Another paper, ‘al-Akhbar’, had a photo of a destroyed port with the words: “The Great Collapse.” Lebanon was already on the brink of collapse amid a severe economic crisis that has ignited mass protests in recent months. Its hospitals are confronting a surge in coronavirus cases, and there were concerns the virus could spread further as people flooded into hospitals.
Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi told a local TV station that it appeared the blast was caused by the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored in a warehouse at the dock ever since it was confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014. Witnesses reported seeing an orange cloud like that which appears when toxic nitrogen dioxide gas is released after an explosion involving nitrates. Videos showed what looked like a fire erupting nearby just before, and local TV stations reported that a fireworks warehouse was involved. The fire appeared to spread to a nearby building, triggering the explosion, sending up a mushroom cloud and generating a shock wave.
Ammonium nitrate, fireworks likely causes
Aug 5 (PTI)
FIREWORKS and ammonium nitrate appear to have been the fuel that ignited a massive explosion that rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut, experts suggest. The scale of the damage — from the epicentre of the explosion at the port of Beirut to the windows blown out kilometres away — resembles other blasts involving the chemical compound commonly used as an agricultural fertiliser. But the compound itself typically doesn’t detonate on its own and requires another ignition source.
That likely came from a fire that engulfed what initially appeared to be fireworks that were stored at the port. Online videos of the disaster’s initial moments show sparks and lights inside the smoke rising from the blaze, just prior to the massive blast. That likely indicates that fireworks were involved, said Boaz Hayoun, owner of the Tamar Group, an Israeli firm that works closely with the Israeli government on safety and certification issues involving explosives.
“Before the big explosion, you can see in the centre of the fire, you can see sparks, you can hear sounds like popcorn and you can hear whistles,” Hayoun told The Associated Press. “This is very specific behaviour of fireworks, the visuals, the sounds and the transformation from a slow burn to a massive explosion.” Jeffrey Lewis, a missile expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, offered a similar assessment. “It looks like an accident,” Lewis told the AP.