Ammonium nitrate stored in warehouse linked to catastrophic Beirut explosion

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Many people were still missing the day after Tuesday’s explosion, and 300,000 were displaced from their homes. The city’s emergency services, already under strain from the Covid-19 pandemic, were operating at reduced capacity after four hospitals were damaged. The shock wave from the explosion damaged buildings up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) away.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate – typically used as agricultural fertilizer – had been stored for six years in a warehouse in the port of Beirut without security measures, “endangering the safety of citizens”, according to a statement.

Early reports in state media attributed the explosion to a major fire at a firecracker warehouse near the port. Later, the country’s general security chief Abbas Ibrahim said “highly explosive material” had been confiscated years earlier and stored in the warehouse, a short walk from the shopping and nightlife areas of Beirut.Beirut General Manager Port Hassan Kraytem said on Wednesday he knew the materials stored “in warehouse number 12” were dangerous, “but not to that extent.” Maintenance was carried out at warehouse gate 12 hours before Tuesday’s explosion, according to Kraytem.

“Customs and state security sent letters [to the authorities] asking to remove or re-export the explosive materials six years ago, and we have been waiting ever since this issue is resolved, but to no avail, ”Kraytem told local TV station OTV.

Vessel traffic services and documents obtained by CNN describe a cargo of 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate that was detained in Beirut in 2013. The Russian vessel, named MV Rhosus, was bound for Mozambique but stopped in Beirut due to financial difficulties. also created unrest with the Russian and Ukrainian crew of the ship.

Lebanese Customs Director Badri Daher told CNN that officials wrote to judicial authorities six times asking for this cargo to be removed from the port, but the demands were not heeded.

Lebanese Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad Najd on Wednesday said there are papers and documents from 2014 proving the existence of an exchange of information on “material” confiscated by the Lebanese authorities. . She told Jordanian public broadcaster Al Mamlaka that the exchange was being considered in relation to the potential cause of the deadly explosion in Beirut.

When asked in a telephone interview if there were any preliminary findings in the investigations related to the cause of the explosion, she said: “There are no preliminary results or clarification. “

The Lebanese cabinet has ordered an unknown number of port officials to be placed under house arrest in the coming days, pending the results of an investigation into the explosion, according to Ghada Shreim, the minister for displaced persons. Those involved in “the storage, custody and investigation of Hangar 12 from 2014 to present” will be included in the arrests, Shreim said.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has promised a transparent investigation into the causes of the explosion, swearing on Wednesday that those responsible would be held responsible and face “severe penalties”.

Calls are increasing for an international investigation into the explosion. “Former Prime Ministers Najib Mikati, Fouad Siniora, Saad Hariri and Tammam Salam deem it necessary to ask the United Nations or the Arab League to form an international or Arab investigation committee,” according to a joint statement released by Hariri’s office .

He called for the committee to be “composed of professional and impartial judges and investigators to begin their duties by uncovering the circumstances and causes of the disaster in Lebanon.”

Rights group Amnesty International also called for the formation of an international mechanism to investigate the incident in a statement released on Wednesday.

Ammonium nitrate is an industrial chemical commonly used around the world as an agricultural fertilizer and in explosives for mining. It has also been used as a key component in improvised explosives, including in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, and by Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders. Behring Breivik during his bombing in 2011.

Following Tuesday’s explosion, the United States Embassy in Beirut urged residents of the region to “stay indoors and wear masks if available” due to reports of toxic gases being released by the explosion.

Anthony May, a retired ATF explosives investigator for the US government, said the amount of explosives and shock waves created by the blast, “is typical of what would amount to a nuclear bomb of a kilotonne with respect to the weight of the explosive. ”

“There was no nuclear material to our knowledge involved in this, but the shock wave generated, the blast wave generated is equivalent to a small nuclear device,” May said.

Death toll is likely to rise amid ‘Hiroshima’ type scenes

Immediate concerns remain about casualties, which are expected to increase further. In the aftermath of the explosion, hospitals in Beirut were overwhelmed with injuries and doctors triage dozens of injured in parking lots and sidewalks. Some were so full they sent people away, a witness said.

“The emergencies looked like a war started, the children – their hands, their legs, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said Serge Mahdessian, hairdresser in Beirut.

The open-air grounds turned into makeshift field hospitals as people and loved ones retreated from the rubble of their homes. Some had broken limbs, others had been covered with shards of glass. Some patients were unconscious. One of Beirut’s main hospitals, Hôtel-Dieu, has received around 400 injured patients, an employee told CNN.

Relatives of the disappeared roam hospitals in search of their loved ones. Lebanese authorities said hundreds of people were still missing, including children.

Four hospitals are out of service due to damage from the blast, Health Minister Hamad Hassan said on Wednesday, adding that the health ministry has a contingency plan with field hospitals sent from Qatar, to Iran, Kuwait, Oman and Jordan. Hassan estimates that six to eight field hospitals will be ready “soon”.

Although Lebanon has only confirmed 5,417 coronavirus cases and 68 associated deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, restrictions linked to the pandemic have further exacerbated the country’s deep and long-standing financial crisis. Power outages are common in the capital, increasing pressure on basic services to provide care for the injured.

The explosion, which occurred just after 6 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET), tore the city apart and wreaked havoc in almost every neighborhood in Beirut, recording as a magnitude 3.3 earthquake in the Lebanese capital. A crater created by the explosion appeared to be about 124 meters (405 feet) in diameter, or well above a football field in length, according to CNN analysis of a satellite image from Planet Labs, Inc.

Images captured the wounded as they staggered through the streets of the capital; and ambulances, cars and military vehicles filled with wounded.

One resident said the scenes looked like “an apocalypse”, another said the port was “totally destroyed”.

“You can see injured people all over the streets of Beirut, glass everywhere, damaged cars,” said Bachar Ghattas, another resident. “What’s going on right now is very, very scary, and people are panicking. Emergency services are overwhelmed. ”

The official residence of the Lebanese President, the seat of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the CNN office in downtown Beirut were damaged. Homes within 10 kilometers (6 miles) were also damaged, witnesses said.

City governor Marwan Abboud said the scene reminded him of atomic bomb blasts at the end of World War II in “Hiroshima and Nagasaki”.

“In my life, I have not seen destruction on this scale,” Abboud said. “It’s a national disaster. ”

The Lebanese Red Cross has pleaded with the public on Twitter for blood donations to help the injured and said it has opened triage centers and first aid stations to help people with non-critical injuries. All its ambulances across the country have been dispatched to the capital to support the rescue and evacuation of patients.

The Philippine Embassy in Beirut confirmed on Wednesday that two of its citizens had died in the blast. Eight other Filipinos were injured, including one in critical but stable condition. Two of the injured were part of a group of 13 Filipino sailors whose ship was moored “some 400 meters from the area of ​​the blast,” the embassy said, adding that the other 11 were missing.

Four Bangladeshi nationals were killed and nearly 100 others injured in the blast, the Bangladesh national news agency Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) reported. Among the injured were 21 members of the Bangladeshi navy, who were on duty at the port as part of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, BSS said, adding that one of the navy personnel is in critical condition.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at least one Australian was killed in the blast and the Australian Embassy building was “significantly compromised”.

Six Turkish citizens, one Chinese citizen, one Japanese national and one Indonesian were also injured, according to their respective governments.

Mary Ilyushina, Katie Polglase, Isaac Yee, Charbel Mayo, Angus Watson, Yoko Wakatsuki, Jake Kwon, Barbara Starr, Ryan Browne, Jessie Yeung, Joshua Berlinger, Raja Razek, Samantha Beech, Schams Elwazer, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Tara John, Alessandria Masi, Nada AlTaher, Hamdi Alkhshali, Amir Tal, Andrew Carey, Jennifer Hansler et Paul Murphy ont contribué à ce rapport.

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