Lebanon’s President, Michel Aoun, blamed the detonation on 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that he said had been stored unsafely at a warehouse in the port.
Ammonium nitrate has been associated with deadly industrial accidents. In 1947, a ship carrying 2,000 tonnes of the chemical exploded in Texas, killing 581 people.
The disaster was preceded by a large fire at the Port of Beirut, on the city’s northern Mediterranean coast. In videos posted on social media white smoke could be seen billowing from Warehouse 12, next to the port’s huge grain silos.
Shortly after 18:00 (15:00 GMT), the roof of the warehouse caught alight and there was a large initial explosion, followed by a series of smaller blasts that some witnesses said sounded like fireworks going off.
About 30 seconds later, there was a colossal explosion that sent a mushroom cloud into the air and a supersonic blast-wave radiating through the city. That blast-wave levelled buildings near the port and caused extensive damage over much of the rest of the capital, which is home to two million people. Hospitals were quickly overwhelmed.
The government has ordered officials at the port who oversaw the storage of the ammonium nitrate to be put under house arrest pending the completion of the investigation. Many Lebanese have been unimpressed by the government’s promises of transparency and accountability. They see the investigation as an attempt by a political elite accused of corruption, neglect and mismanagement to dodge blame for the disaster.
Source: BBC News