Hassan Diab, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, cried as he spoke to reporters on Tuesday evening after a massive explosion flattened a large sector of his city, killing at least 100 people, wounding more than 4000 more. Windows as far as 15 kilometers away were broken, cars were blown off of raised freeways by the shockwave, and buildings close to ground zero were all but vaporized.
“I will not rest until we find the person responsible for what happened,” he told reporters, his voice choked and not only with the fine dust that still clogged the air.
The explosion, which happened in the city’s port, was caused when a fire ignited nearly 3,000 tonnes (over 6 million pounds) of improperly stored ammonium nitrate. Dozens of videos of the explosion and devastating shockwave immediately rocked the internet. They seemed to support initial reports from local news, which attributed the first fire to a stored amount of fireworks – crackling lights can be seen in the blaze before the massive blast.
Ammonium nitrate, most often sold as a component in fertilizer, is also a common ingredient in explosives. 80% of explosives used for industrial purposes in the world use ammonium nitrate, and it’s a frequent component of homemade explosives as well. The Oklahoma City bombing, for instance, used an ammonium nitrate-based explosive.
As yet, however, there’s no evidence that the massive explosion was any sort of attack. According to Abbas Ibrahim, the director-general of Lebanese intelligence, the hazardous material was confiscated six or seven years before, and has been stored in the port every since. Finding a method of safe disposal, which should have been done immediately, wasn’t made a priority.
The numbers of dead and wounded will continue to rise over the next several days or weeks, as rescue workers comb the debris and survivors report loves ones who won’t return home.
Credit: Editoral use only: By Hiba Al Kallas