Lebanon, a country already reeling from an unprecedented economic crisis, and a surge in coronavirus infections, was struck by the massive explosion at the Port of Beirut on Tuesday which killed at least 158 people and injured more than 6,000.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said the explosion was due to a stockpile of 2,750 metric tonnes of the industrial chemical ammonium nitrate, used in fertilizers and explosives, catching fire after having been stored at the port since 2013 without safety measures.
However, Russian military expert Viktor Murakhovsky said that the amount must have been "much less" or else the Lebanese capital would have been "erased," suggesting that the ammonium nitrate amount that exploded did not exceed 300 metric tonnes.
The explosion is widely blamed on the incompetence and corruption of the ruling elite.
On Saturday, thousands of protesters had gathered in the streets of Beirut to voice their anger at the political elite they hold accountable for turning the capital into a disaster zone.
Here is how the Beirut explosion and the wreckage it left behind unfolded based on the available footage:
People in Beirut began sharing pictures and videos on social media of smoke plumes near the port at approximately 6 p.m. local time.
The footage shows how the thick smoke was followed by an explosion.
Then there was a massive second explosion, shooting a massive fireball upwards and causing a mushroom cloud of smoke to envelope the area.
Watch: Video shot from inside a car shows a huge mushroom cloud ripping from one of two explosions that erupted from #Lebanon’s Port #Beirut, shocking motorists in the Lebanese capital.https://t.co/IB8kyus4cq pic.twitter.com/EjDOpl2LED— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) August 4, 2020
Cause of the fire?
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported that the fire first ignited fireworks.
Some of the videos shared show sparks and flashes.
Lebanese broadcaster LBCI reported that welding work on the warehouse started the fire.
Regardless of the cause, the fire apparently spread to the ammonium nitrate stockpile which led to the massive explosion.
“The dark and reddish color of the debris and smoke cloud that towered above the blast suggests two things: that ammonium nitrate was present and that it was not military grade,” the New York Times reported citing Dr. Rachel Lance, an explosives expert.
Satellite images and drone footage taken a day after the blast showed the extent of the damage at the Port of Beirut.
Watch: Aerial footage shows wide destruction at the port of #Beirut after a huge blast devastated entire neighborhoods of the city, killed more than 100 people, and injured over 4,000.https://t.co/X7GI19hKrW pic.twitter.com/aCpXzaB1Oq— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) August 5, 2020
The explosion left a crater with a diameter of at least 124 meters where the warehouse once stood.
It also destroyed the country’s main grain silo, leaving financially-strapped Lebanon with less than a month’s reserves of grain.
The pressure of the explosion’s shockwave smashed masonry, shattered windows, sucked furniture out of apartments onto the streets and left up to a quarter of a million people in disaster-stricken Beirut without homes fit to live in, according to Lebanese officials.
Watch: Footage from on the ground shows the aftermath at the main Jounieh-Beirut highway at the entrance of Downtown Beirut in front of the port where the two explosions erupted.#Lebanonhttps://t.co/DrjpyL700Y pic.twitter.com/UT3uefUiph— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) August 4, 2020
UK specialists estimated that the Beirut blast had 10 percent of the explosive power of the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War II and said it was “unquestionably one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history.”
The explosion was so intense it was felt in Cyprus, a Mediterranean island more than 160 kilometers across the sea from the Lebanese capital.