The Beirut explosion which took place yesterday was allegedly caused by “confiscated high explosive material”, according to Major General Abbas Ibrahim, of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate.
Footage has been shared on social media which captured the massive explosion which has rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut and caused utter devastation.
The explosion has caused extensive damage across the surrounding area of around 10 kilometres (six miles) and has sent a huge cloud of red smoke over the city.
Residents close by have reported that their ceilings have collapsed and windows have been shattered.
— Kaecei Valentine (@KaeceiV) August 5, 2020
Sky News reporter Zein Ja’far said: “It tore apart the facade of the building we’re in, and once the dust settled we managed to get ourselves and others in this block outside.
“It was really quite a worrying sight.
“The sounds of sirens of the fire brigade, ambulances, the police and also the military has been pretty incessant for the last 45 minutes and a huge number of emergency services and security forces are rushing to that area now.”
To help deal with those injured by the explosion, the Lebanese Red Cross called on medics to mobilise the situation immediately.
Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Health Minister Hamad Hassan ordered that all hospitals in the area to cover the major blast, the state-run National News Agency reported.
So far, it has been reported that at least 70 people have been killed and over 4,000 injured, as a result of the explosion.
— Sarah Abdallah (@sahouraxo) August 5, 2020
It has now been stated by Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Hassan Diab, that the explosion was due to 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploding. The “highly explosive materials” had been left unsecured in a warehouse for six years. However, it hasn’t been established what ignited the chemical.
Ammonium nitrate is a common industrial chemical which is mainly used as a fertiliser, as it is a good source of nitrogen for plants. Yet it also one of the main components used in mining explosives.
Senior lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Melbourne, Gabriel da Silva, told The Guardian that ammonium nitrate can only be ignited under specific circumstances and is difficult to achieve.
He said: “You need extreme circumstances to set off an explosion.”
Although ammonium nitrate is not an explosion on its own, it is an oxidiser, as it draws oxygen towards fire. So in this particular case, da Silva suspects that chemical became contaminated with oil.
He added: “I think that’s what happened here.”
Fortunately, chemicals in the air can be dissipated fairly quickly. Although, any lingering pollutants could cause issues later, as there’s potential for it to acidify the rain.
Featured Image Credit: @BissanCampaigns/@Beltrew