Beirut explosion: What we know so far

Rescue workers in Lebanon have been digging through the rubble looking for survivors of a devastating explosion in Beirut on Tuesday that killed at least 135 people and injured more than 5,000 others.

Here is what we know so far.

What happened?

There was reportedly an initial explosion in the port area around about 18:00 (15:00 GMT) followed by a fire and small blasts that some witnesses said sounded like fireworks going off.

Videos posted on social media showed white smoke billowing from a warehouse next to the port's grain silos shortly before a colossal explosion sent a fireball into the air and generated a supersonic, mushroom cloud-shaped shockwave that radiated across the city.

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That second blast 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.

"What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe," said the head of the Lebanese Red Cross, George Kettani. "There are victims and casualties everywhere."

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud said as many as 300,000 people had been made temporarily homeless and that the collective losses might reach $10-15bn (£8-11bn).

How big was the blast?

Experts have not yet determined its size, but the shockwave blew out windows at Beirut International Airport's passenger terminal, about 9km (5 miles) away from the port.

The explosion was also heard as far away as Cyprus, about 200km (125 miles) across the Mediterranean Sea, and seismologists at the United States Geological Survey said it was the equivalent of a 3.3-magnitude earthquake.

Interactive See extent of damage at Beirut blast site

5 August 2020

Beirut port in August 2020 after explosion

25 January 2020

Beirut port in January 2020

What was the cause?

Lebanon's President, Michel Aoun, blamed the detonation of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that he said had been stored unsafely at a warehouse in the port.

A similar amount of the chemical arrived on a Moldovan-flagged cargo ship, the MV Rhosus, which docked in Beirut in 2013 after suffering technical problems while sailing from Georgia to Mozambique.

The Rhosus was inspected, banned from leaving and was shortly afterwards abandoned by its owners, according to industry newsletter Shiparrested.com. Its cargo was reportedly moved to a port warehouse for safety reasons, and should have been disposed of or resold.

More on the explosion in Beirut

Ammonium nitrate is a crystal-like white solid commonly used as a source of nitrogen for agricultural fertiliser. But it can also be combined with fuel oils to create an explosive used in the mining and construction industries. Militants have made bombs with it in the past.

Experts say that ammonium nitrate is relatively safe when stored properly. However, if you have a large amount of material lying around for a long time it begins to decay.

"The real problem is that over time it will absorb little bits of moisture and it eventually turns into an enormous rock," Andrea Sella, professor of chemistry at University College London, told the BBC. This makes it more dangerous because if a fire reaches it, the chemical reaction will be much more intense.

Ammonium nitrate has been associated wRead More – Source