Blast in the Lebanon’s Capital (Beirut)
A massive explosion rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut on Tuesday evening, leaving at least 135 dead and thousands injured. The blast has been linked to a large supply of confiscated and potentially unsecured explosive material, stored in a warehouse at the city’s port, close to populated areas.
What, where, when the attack happens?
The explosion took place at 6:07 p.m. local time Tuesday near Beirut’s port and central district, close to many highly-populated areas and tourist sites.
Nearby landmarks include the historic Martyrs’ Square; the Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhael neighbourhoods, fixtures of the Beirut bar scene; the landmark Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, Grand Serail, the government palace and Baabda Palace, the official residence of the Lebanese President.
The explosion tore through the city, flipping cars, shattering glass and causing some homes to crumble. Damaged buildings include the headquarters of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and CNN’s bureau in downtown Beirut. Homes as far as 10 kilometres (6 miles) away were damaged.
The explosion had resulted in an estimated three to five billion US dollar’s worth of damage and 90% of hotels in the Lebanese capital had been damaged.
The blast was even felt in Cyprus, around 240 kilometres (150 miles) away, and registered as a 3.3 magnitude earthquake.
A crater created by the explosion appeared to be roughly 124 meters (405 feet) in diameter, or well over a football field in length.
The government used geospatial software to measure the satellite imagery of the explosion site. The 124-meter diameter is accurate within 10 meters.
What are the casualties of the attack?
At least 135 people were killed in the blast and another 5,000 wounded.
Beirut’s governor, Marwan Aboud, told that at least 300,000 people were “unable to sleep in their homes,” adding that half of Beirut’s population have homes that are unliveable for the foreseeable future for the next two weeks.
Some naval peacekeepers with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) have also been injured. They have been transported to the hospital for treatment.
What caused the blast?
There have been conflicting reports of what caused the blast. Initially, the explosion was blamed on a major fire at a warehouse for firecrackers near the port. The report state that about 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive material, had been stored at the port for the past six years without preventive measures.
The ammonium nitrate came to Beirut on a Russian-owned ship in 2013, which had originally been headed to Mozambique. It stopped in Beirut due to financial difficulties and unrest among the crew and never left again. The crew abandoned the ship, which was detained by authorities, and the ammonium nitrate on board was stored in a hangar at the port just a few minute’s walks from shopping and nightlife districts.
What is ammonium nitrate?
Ammonium nitrate (AN), a compound of ammonia and nitrogen, is a highly volatile material used in agricultural fertilizers and bombs.
Disasters involving Ammonium Nitrate are rare, considering the US uses millions of tons of it every year in fertilizers. “Pure” solid AN is quite stable, but if the compound is mixed with any contaminants, even in small traces, the mixture becomes much more prone to detonation which is why there are normally stringent government guidelines for how to treat and store it properly.
In general, the conditions of AN storage are crucial to the safety and stability of the AN. Materials co-located or stored with AN may play a role in its sensitivity to the explosion.
For instance, AN shouldn’t be stored with any fuel, organic materials, chlorides or metals. The EPA guidelines also recommend fire-resistant walls in the storage unit, noncombustible flooring, and crucially controlled temperatures.
What cause the ammonium nitrate to blast?
AN doesn’t burn but is exposed to heat, it can melt which releases combustible toxic gases that can cause an explosion. It’s even more dangerous if there is a large supply of AN all stored together because once a small section of AN begins to melt and explode, the resulting heat can set off the rest of the supply.
One of the worst disasters in US history involving a form of ammonia occurred in April 1947 when a ship loaded with ammonium nitrate caught fire while docked in Texas City. The fire caused an explosion and additional fires that damaged more than 1,000 buildings and killed nearly 400 people. For perspective, that explosion was triggered by 2,300 US tons (about 2087 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate.
The 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, a US domestic terror attack that killed 169 people and injured 467, used only two US tons (1.8 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate.
Image Courtesy: www.jpost.com