On Tuesday evening, Beirut witnessed two horrifying explosions in its port area, which the Lebanese government has blamed on a warehouse containing almost 3000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.
Videos of the second explosion went viral on social media. Footage showed columns of fire and smoke -the result from the first explosion- moments before the second, significantly larger, explosion occurred.
The local Red Cross has so far confirmed at least 100 deaths and more than 4000 injured but the search for survivors amongst the rubble is still under way. The blast destroyed the immediate surroundings and damaged buildings miles away from the explosion. Residents on the island of Cyprus, 200km off the coast of Lebanon, reported hearing the blast while people from the eastern Mediterranean assumed it was an earthquake.
Ammonium nitrate is a common industrial chemical that is mostly used in the production of fertilizers and under specific circumstances could turn into a dangerous explosive as seen in Beirut and Tianjin in 2015. The nitrate had been stored in the port warehouse for years after it was seized by port authorities and the location has often been highlighted for its unsuitability to properly store the material.
Lebanese PM Hassan Diab has called for three days of mourning starting on Wednesday while the Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council has decreed a two-week long emergency status in the city and promised the “maximum punishment” for the culprits.
The explosion comes at a terrible time in the Middle Eastern nation, amongst political instability and economic turmoil, the country’s health infrastructure had already reached its limits due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition, the explosion could cause more issues as Lebanon imports most of its food, and large quantities of its wheat stockpiles were stored in the port and destroyed in the incident.
The country had already seen several protests in the previous weeks against the government handling of the current economic situation. President Aoun has in response promised £50.5 Million in emergency funds.