A huge explosion in Lebanon’s capital Beirut yesterday left at least 100 dead and thousands injured. There are a wide variety of theories about what may have started the blast, but at this time, most sources are reporting that the initial fire that led to the explosion was started by a reckless welder, and that the chemicals were in the port by accident.
More than 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate was being stored at a warehouse near where the fire took place, and it was believed to be unintentionally detonated when the fire reached the explosives. The chemicals were being stored at the facility for over 6 years, after they were confiscated in 2013, according to Lebanon’s General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim.
Badri Daher, Director General of Lebanese Customs, claimed that he had previously sent six warnings to the judiciary about the potential danger posed by storing those chemicals in that way.
“We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why,” he said.
Another source said a team that inspected the ammonium nitrate six months ago and warned that it would “blow up all of Beirut,” if it was not moved.
Ammonium nitrate is mainly used as a fertilizer, but has also been used to build homemade bombs.
The harbor has been identified any times in the past as a site of weapons smuggling, so initially, there are also theories that the building could have been the target of sabotage. Any potential state enemies or terrorist groups that wanted to create havoc in Lebanon would likely identify certain parts of the harbor as targets, but there is not yet any evidence that anything like this occurred, aside from some grainy photographs of a projectile appearing to strike the building during the fire, but none of these photographs have been confirmed as authentic.
The blast could be heard over 110 miles away, and destruction was caused many miles away from the blast zone. It has been estimated that the explosion was a fifth the size of the blast caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Rescue efforts are still ongoing, with emergency crews rushing to the disaster zone to find and help victims. There are still many people trapped in the rubble among the collapsed buildings, so the number of casualties and injuries are expected to rise. There are also many other side-effects of the explosion that residents of the city will be dealing with for months and possibly even years to come. Up to 300,000 people could now be left homeless, and hospitals are overrun with victims of the explosion. Toxic gasses were also released in the explosion and resulting infrastructure damage, and strange orange clouds filled the air for hours. All of the food in the harbor was poisoned by the gasses, which will likely have a severe impact on the region's food supply.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun has declared a state of emergency in Beirut for two weeks, and has promised the “harshest punishments” for whoever is responsible for the explosion.