The two explosions that ripped through Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, on Tuesday evening killed more than 100 people and wounded thousands of others. The second, much larger blast devastated a wide area, knocking people down, overturning cars and enveloping much of the central city in dust and smoke. Windows miles away were blown out, leaving streets looking like they had been “cobbled in glass,” according to a resident.
The injured, who numbered more than 4,000, were soon streaming into local hospitals. Many arrived on foot or carried by others, with the streets impassable to cars and ambulance services overwhelmed. The damage to St. George Hospital, one of the city’s biggest, was so severe that it had to shut down and send patients elsewhere. “Every floor of the hospital is damaged,” said Dr. Peter Noun, its chief of pediatric hematology and oncology. “I didn’t see this even during the war. It’s a catastrophe.”
The cause appeared to be the detonation of more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in fertilizer and bombs. Officials said it had been stored in a port warehouse since 2014, when it was confiscated from a cargo ship. As of Tuesday night, the possibility of a deliberate attack had not been ruled out, but Prime Minister Hassan Diab hinted that neglect had led to the blast.
Building near the port
Hospital that was damage in the blast
Surveying the Damage
The blasts blew out windows, destroyed buildings and damaged vehicles across the city
A highway near the blast site
A View of the aftermath
Smoke rising from the blast site
Helping a victim in Central Beirut
The scene after the explosions at the port
Evacuating the Wounded. With Hospitals Overwhelmed, some people were turned away
Damaged buildings near the port
A victim arriving at a hospital
Firefighters trying to extinguish the blazes that followed the explosions
Evacuating an injured sailor from a ship docked near the blast site
Some victims were carried to hospitals. The blasts reminded many in Beirut of the worst days of Lebanon’s civil war
A wrecked silo at the port
What caused the explosions?
The exact cause remains undetermined. The first blast may have been in a fireworks warehouse at the port. Officials say the second, more devastating explosion most likely came from a nearby 2,750-ton stockpile of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical often used as fertilizer, which Prime Minister Hassan Diab said had been stored in a depot for six years.
Investigators will try to determine whether the blasts were accidents or intentionally triggered. Beirut was engulfed in civil war from 1975 to 1990 and has seen bombings and conflict since then, raising fears of a possible return of violence. But Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, the head of Lebanon’s general security service, warned against speculating about terrorism before the facts were known.
Where did it happen?
The blasts caused severe damage to buildings, warehouses and grain silos in the port, in the north of the city. Beyond the industrial waterfront, the explosions tore through popular nightlife and shopping districts and densely populated neighborhoods. More than 750,000 people live in the parts of the city that were damaged.
Even before the explosions, Lebanon had been suffering from a series of crises, including the plunging value of its currency, an influx of refugees from neighboring Syria and the coronavirus pandemic. Since last fall, waves of protesters have taken to the streets to vent anger with Lebanon’s political elite over what they consider the mismanagement of the country.
How big were the blasts?
The second explosion was like an earthquake, witnesses said, and was felt in Cyprus, more than 100 miles away.
Ammonium nitrate explosions have caused a number of disasters. A ship carrying about 2,000 tons of the compound caught fire and exploded in Texas City, Texas, in 1947, killing 581 people. About two tons of the chemical were used in the 1995 terrorist bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people.
How bad was the damage?
Ceilings collapsed, walls and windows were blown out and debris was found far as two miles from the port. Cars were flipped, and rubble from shattered buildings filled city streets.
Several hospitals, already strained from the coronavirus pandemic, were severely damaged. At the Bikhazi Medical Group hospital in the center of the city, a ceiling fell on some patients, the hospital director said.
The 400-bed St. George Hospital was so extensively damaged that it had to discharge patients and close.