the smoky fire that preceded the ‘fireworks’ must have been accidental

Beirut Blast Wrap-up
Moon of Alabama, Aug 5 2020

Yesterday 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the port of Beirut, Lebanon, exploded. The blast killed more than 100 people and wounded more than 4k. Many buildings in Beirut were severely damaged. The pressure wave broke windows as far 10 miles away. Beirut’s port is mostly destroyed. Lebanon’s national grain reserve, stored in grain silos next to the explosion, is gone. This comes on top of an economic and currency meltdown in Lebanon and during a exponential growth phase of the Coronovirus epidemic. In 2013, Lebanese authorities arrested a ship that had been abandoned by its owner:

On 23/9/2013, m/v Rhosus, flying the Moldovian flag, sailed from Batumi Port, Georgia heading to Biera in Mozambique carrying 2,750 tons of Ammonium Nitrate in bulk. En route, the vessel faced technical problems forcing the Master to enter Beirut Port. Upon inspection of the vessel by Port State Control, the vessel was forbidden from sailing. Most crew except the Master and four crew members were repatriated and shortly afterwards the vessel was abandoned by her owners after charterers and cargo concern lost interest in the cargo. The vessel quickly ran out of stores, bunker and provisions. Owing to the risks associated with retaining the Ammonium Nitrate on board the vessel, the port authorities discharged the cargo onto the port’s warehouses. The vessel and cargo remain to date in port awaiting auctioning and/or proper disposal.

The ammonium nitrate was stored in a quayside warehouse. The picture shows the 1,000 kg big bags labeled “Nitroprill HD” in bad storage conditions at the ‘Hanger 12’ warehouse in Beirut.

“Nitroprill HD” is a knock-off product of the trademarked Nitropril, a premium grade porous prilled ammonium nitrate manufactured and sold by the Orica Mining Services in Australia. It is used as a commercial explosive in mining and quarrying. The safety sheet of the original product says it “May explode under confinement and high temperature, but not readily detonated. May explode due to nearby detonations.” An Orica safety assessment (App III) sets the TNT (military explosive) equivalence for fire of bulk Nitropril in big bags at 15%. 2,750 tons of Nitropril are thereby the equivalent of 412.5 tons of TNT.

A video taken from the top of the grain silos next to the warehouse shows uncontrolled explosions of small fireworks within a port warehouse near to where the ammonium nitrate was stored. The small crackling fireworks explosions are followed by a very huge one. The video is consistent with other videos taken from further away. What set of the fireworks which set off the ammonium nitrate  is yet unknown but it is assumed to have been accidental. The damage as shown in the before-after picture below is huge.

A look at the quay from the east with the crater of the explosion in front of the grain silos. The silos have protected the western part of the city from more damage. Wheat has spilled out. The grain reserves of Lebanon are down to less than a month of consumption.

The ammonium nitrate should not have been stored in a warehouse within the city. But similar could be said of the Iranian ammunition that was stored at the Evangelos Florakis Naval Base in Cyprus. It had been seized at Pindo urging en route to Syria in Jan 2009. On Jul 11 2011, a wildfire at the base set off the ammunition. The explosion killed dozens and destroyed the main power station of the island. An aerial video taken this morning shows the utter devastation of Beirut’s port facilities. Lebanon depends on imports. 80% of those come through Beirut port. Pictures and videos from various correspondents in Beirut show their damaged apartments (1, 2, 3, 4). All windows are broken and glass shards are strewn all over the places. The breaking windows must have caused most of the injuries. According to the mayor of Beirut some 300.000 people have lost their homes. The Middle East correspondent for the Independent tweeted:

Bel Trew’s full report of the explosion and its aftermath is here. Syria and Iran have immediately promised aid for Lebanon. An Iranian emergency hospital is currently on its way to Beirut and is expected to open later today. Syria dispatched medical teams and is receiving patients from Beirut’s overwhelmed hospitals. The explosion hit Beirut at a moment where the country is under Pindo sanctions and while its currency is cratering with inflation reaching 90% per month after a Ponzi scheme run by its Central Bank blew up. People who do not own foreign currency will be unable to replace their broken windows. The whole country is disintegrating. Foreign aid from Arab and other states will now hopefully flow in and help to alleviate the suffering. RFE/RL spoke with the captain of the ship that unintentionally had brought the ammonium nitrate to Lebanon. He confirms the ship’s arrest. It also reports the cause of the incident:

Lebanon’s LBCI-TV reported on August 5 that, according to preliminary information, the fire that set off the explosion was started accidentally by welders who were closing off a gap that allowed unauthorized entry into the warehouse. LBCI said sparks from a welder’s torch are thought to have ignited fireworks stored in a warehouse, which in turn detonated the nearby cargo of ammonium nitrate that had been unloaded from the MV Rhosus years earlier. Independent experts say orange clouds that followed the massive blast on Aug 4 were likely from toxic nitrogen dioxide gas that is released after an explosion involving nitrates.

There is a short video of firefighters at the initial fire. Reportedly none survived when the fireworks fire set off the ammonium nitrate. Another video shows the initial fire caused by welding. It burns a while and then sets off fireworks in a first explosion. This takes the the roof off the warehouse. A few minutes later the fireworks cause the huge explosion of the ammonium nitrate. Reuters provides another detail:

The source said a fire had started at port warehouse 9 on Tuesday and spread to warehouse 12, where the ammonium nitrate was stored.

That the ammonium nitrate was stored for seven years was not the responsibility of the port management but was caused by some judicial quarrel:

The head of Beirut port and the head of customs both said on Wednesday that several letters were sent to the judiciary asking for the dangerous material be removed, but no action was taken.

Port General Manager Hassan Koraytem told OTV the material had been put in a warehouse on a court order, adding that they knew then the material was dangerous but “not to this degree.” Badri Daher, director general of Lebanese Customs, told broadcaster LBCI:

We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why.

Two documents seen by Reuters showed Lebanese Customs had asked the judiciary in 2016 and 2017 to request that the “concerned maritime agency” re-export or approve the sale of the ammonium nitrate, which had been removed from cargo vessel Rhosus and deposited in warehouse 12, to ensure port safety.

Massive explosion in Beirut kills dozens and injures thousands
Kevin Reed, WSWS, Aug 5 2020

Dozens of people were killed and thousands injured by a massive explosion on Tuesday evening in Beirut, Lebanon that flattened the city’s port district and damaged buildings as far away as six miles. Numerous smartphone videos shared on social media and published by news organizations show a large fire at a port warehouse with a white column of smoke billowing into the blue sky above Beirut followed by a terrifying blast that emits a giant mushroom cloud and a shock wave that engulfs everything in its path. A report by AP said that the blast struck with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany’s geosciences center GFZ, “and it was heard and felt as far away as Cyprus more than 200 km across the Mediterranean.” Other reports said the large number of injured in need of emergency medical attention are overwhelming area hospitals and officials were making public pleas for blood donations. The Guardian reported at 23:15 BST that there were two explosions in Beirut and that Lebanon’s health minister Hamad Hassan confirmed that at least 78 people were killed and 4k injured. The Guardian report said:

The final death toll from the biggest explosion to ever rock Beirut is expected to be significantly higher than the figures given in its immediate aftermath. Georges Kettaneh, a Lebanese Red Cross official, said more deaths were expected when rescue teams combed through damaged buildings.

Although the cause of the blast is still to be officially identified, Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security, told news media that it may have been the product of highly explosive material that was stored at the Beirut port after it was confiscated from a ship. A tweet from an account identified with the Lebanese Presidency quoted Prime Minister Hassan Diab as saying:

It is unacceptable that a shipment of ammonium nitrate estimated at 2,750 tons has been present for six years in a warehouse without taking preventive measures that endanger the safety of citizens.

Ammonium nitrate, a chemical used in fertilizer production, is a powerful explosive. By comparison, the Oklahoma City bombers used 2 tons of ammonium nitrate to detonate the deadly explosion that killed 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995. A BBC report said:

Prime Minister Hassan Diab called it a catastrophe and said those responsible must be held to account. He spoke of a ‘dangerous warehouse’ which had been there since 2014 but said he would not pre-empt the investigation.

The AP said that local TV stations reported that a fireworks warehouse had caught on fire and that “the fire then appeared to spread to a nearby building, triggering a more massive explosion. One of Israel’s top bomb experts, Boaz Hayoun, owner of the Tamar Group, which works closely with the Israeli government on safety and certification issues involving explosives, said:

Fireworks could have been a factor setting off the bigger blast. Before the big explosion, in the center of the fire, you can see sparks, you can hear sounds like popcorn and you can hear whistles.

Pompeo said the Trump administration is closely monitoring the situation. Pompeo said in a written statement:

Our team in Beirut has reported to me the extensive damage to a city and a people that I hold dear, an additional challenge in a time of already deep crisis.

Pompeo’s reference is concerning the deep economic and financial crisis that has overtaken Lebanon, including a collapsing currency, soaring inflation and expanding poverty, accompanied by the intensification of sectarian conflict, all of which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking about the events in Lebanon during a White House press briefing on Tuesday evening, Trump said that the explosion “looks like a terrible attack,” adding:

I’ve met with some of our great generals and they just seem to feel that it was not a — some kind of manufacturing explosion type of event. This was a — seems to be according to them, they would know better than I would, but they seem to think it was an attack. It was a bomb of some kind.

Trump offered no further evidence or explanation of his statement, which contradicts the position of Lebanese officials.

Trump calls Beirut explosion an ‘attack’
Laura Kelly, The Hill, Aug 4 2020

President Trump described explosions that occurred in Beirut on Tuesday and killed at least 78 people as an “attack,” saying his military and national security advisers had indicated to him that it was likely a bomb. Trump said at a White House news conference:

I met with some of our great generals, and they just seemed to feel that it was — this was not some kind of manufacturing explosion type of event. According to them — they would know better than I would — but they seem to think it was an attack, it was a bomb of some kind.

Beirut was rocked by a massive explosion early Tuesday evening local time that has left 78 dead and at least 4,000 injured, according to The NYT. The blast sent shockwaves through the city and was captured on a number of videos. The Lebanese government is investigating the source of the explosion, but officials suggested the blast occurred when a warehouse stored with explosive materials caught on fire. The Times reported that a large stock of ammonium nitrate was stored where the explosions occurred. Lebanon’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, called the explosion a “catastrophe” and promised to hold those accountable to justice, saying there have been “facts about this dangerous warehouse that has been there since 2014,” and said an investigation will take place, according to a copy of his remarks reported by Lebanese state media NNA.

‘A bomb of some kind’? Trump says Pindo military officials think deadly Beirut blast was an attack
RT.com, Aug 4 2020

President Trump has claimed the blast that rocked Beirut was likely an “attack,” citing Pindo military officials who “seem to believe” the explosion was not accidental, despite widespread reports it was a chemical warehouse accident. The blast erupted at a port warehouse in the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, killing at least 70 people and leaving thousands injured. Though the exact cause of the explosion has not been determined, and no Lebanese official has labeled the incident an attack, Trump told reporters that the Pentagon believes a bomb was involved. Trump said when asked whether the blast was the result of an attack:

It would seem like it based on the explosion. I met with some of our great generals, they seem to feel this was not some kind of manufacturing explosion type of event. They seem to think it was an attack, it was a bomb of some kind.

Though rumors and speculation of a potential foul play swirled on social media following the explosion, both the Israeli military and the Hezbollah militant group have denied any involvement, while Lebanese officials have also brushed aside suggestions of an Israeli rocket attack. Instead, the head of the country’s General Security Directorate, Abbas Ibrahim, said an “incident” at a chemical depot set off the blast, suggesting it was accidental. Some 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a chemical commonly used in fertilizers, but also in explosives, had been improperly stored at the port warehouse since 2014, President Michel Aoun said in a tweet, calling it “unacceptable” while vowing that those responsible would face the “most severe penalties.”

WATCH enormous Beirut blast from 15 synchronized camera angles as mystery surrounding its cause persists
RT.com, Aug 4 2020

Videos of the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut that left over 70 people dead and thousands wounded continue to emerge, painting a comprehensive picture of the destruction, though shedding no light on its cause. A mega-compilation of 15 different videos from witnesses to Tuesday’s catastrophic explosion in Lebanon’s capital has been compiled by RT. The synced-up clips give some idea of the far-reaching devastation caused by the blast, which authorities have traced to a 2,750-tonne stash of explosive ammonium nitrate in a warehouse by the port (certainly not an Israeli missile, Lebanese and Israeli authorities as well as Hezbollah have stressed). The casualty count continues to climb and hospitals in Beirut are said to be exceeding capacity. The blast was reportedly heard as far away as Cyprus, some 150 miles away from the port. Despite the explanations supplied by Lebanese authorities, Trump apparently felt compelled to weigh in on the incident during a press conference Tuesday evening, suggesting, “based on the explosion,” that it was an “attack, it was a bomb of some kind” after consulting with Pentagon generals.

Beirut explosion seems a catastrophic ‘accident similar to 2001 Toulouse fertilizer factory blast,’ detonations expert tells RT
RT.com, Aug 5 2020

The massive blast that shook Beirut was likely caused by a fatal mishandling of hazardous materials, mirroring the explosion that leveled a fertilizer plant in France some two decades ago, a chemist and detonations expert told RT. Tuesday’s explosion tore through a port chemical depot and sent a towering fireball and mushroom cloud into the sky over Beirut, leaving more than 70 people dead and some 4k injured. Though Trump has mused that the incident was an “attack” caused by “some kind of bomb,” Frolov, who heads the combustion and explosion department at the Semenov Institute of Chemical Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, said he’s confident the blast was a catastrophic accident. Frolov, who also leads the Semenov Institute’s detonations lab, told RT in an interview:

The sequence of events shows this was an accidental explosion for sure. You shouldn’t store such amounts of hazardous materials in one place. This is forbidden. If you have hazardous materials somewhere in store, and if you violate the conditions of storage, you can expect an ignition source will always appear.

While the exact cause of the blast has yet to be determined, Lebanese officials say that some 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been improperly stored at the port for nearly 6 years, with the country’s President Michel Aoun vowing “severe penalties” for those responsible for the chemical cache. Commonly used in fertilizers, ammonium nitrate is also the main ingredient in some industrial-grade explosives, such as ANFO, and is prone to violent combustion if stored under the wrong conditions. Frolov pointed to press reports stating that the chemical warehouse was located not far from a fireworks storage and other hazardous material facilities, calling it a “very, very dangerous mix,” requiring only a small spark to set off a major secondary blast. Some local reports, citing security sources, alleged it could be a welding mishap. Frolov said:

It could be static electricity, it could be an open fire, a cigarette. it could be a shock or electrical discharge, even some lightning. This accidental ignition source will cause a fire, and during the fire you have some gasification of the existing material, and the accumulation of these combustibles in the atmosphere. You have escalation of fire, and then you can have the secondary explosion.

Recalling the 2001 disaster at a fertilizer factory in Toulouse, France, where some 300 tonnes of ammonium nitrate combusted, leveling the entire facility, Frolov said the two deadly blasts are comparable in destructive force, estimating the Beirut explosion to be equal to “tens of tonnes of high explosives. He said:

What I saw reminded me of the explosion in Toulouse. There were very similar consequences. In that explosion about 30 people were killed immediately, and about 3k were injured. So this gives me an exact parallel, that this explosion is very close, by its strength, to that one.

Frolov said the 2001 blast was equivalent to 20 to 40 tonnes of TNT. He refuted speculations and concerns over a huge “mushroom-shaped cloud,” explaining it was common in the case of such a powerful conventional explosion. He said:

This is actually the explosion itself. There was some special shape, and this shape is characteristic of very strong explosions, where you have not a spherical wave, but the wave with a ‘mach stem’ it is called, near the ground. This is not a Hiroshima-like, as some people say, because that was kilotons, but this is tens of tonnes.

As first responders in Beirut work through the night to pull survivors from the rubble and investigators pinpoint the precise cause of the blast, Frolov said the tragic incident will come as “a very, very large and sad lesson for everybody,” stressing the need for proper storage of volatile and dangerous chemicals.

HRW chief jumps to blame Hezbollah for devastating Beirut blasts, and backpedals immediately
RT.com, Aug 4 2020

Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth was quick to join a social media chorus blaming Hezbollah for deadly explosions in Beirut on Tuesday. Perhaps realizing the claim lacked a shred of evidence, he soon deleted it. Roth rushed to blame Hezbollah for the huge explosions near the port of Beirut, blasts which killed at least 50 people and are believed to have wounded over 3k more. “Is this Hezbollah’s way of saying don’t mess with us for allegedly killing former Lebanese PM Hariri?” he asked in a tweet posted almost immediately after news of the explosions hit social media on Tuesday. The HRW executive director called for a UN tribunal prosecuting four Hezbollah members for the 2005 truck-bomb killing of former Lebanese PM Rafiq al-Hariri to “deliver its verdict as planned on Friday” and “pressure” the Shi’a group to “surrender anyone convicted.” Roth soon deleted the tweet without explanation, posting nothing further on the gargantuan blasts that were reportedly heard as far away as Cyprus, some 150 miles from Beirut. The four Hezbollah members Roth referred to are being tried in absentia for the 2005 bombing, which left Hariri and 21 others dead and triggered massive protests culminating in Syria’s withdrawal of its longstanding military presence from Lebanon, as a UN-led probe fingered Damascus for the bombing. Hezbollah has denied any role in the assassination and has slammed the tribunal as a politically-motivated show trial masterminded by the US and Israel. Roth was far from the only one to pin the explosions on Hezbollah, though he may have been the only leader of a supposedly-neutral human rights organization to do so. A slew of pro-Israel accounts came out of the woodwork to blame the militant political party for the carnage, noting that Israeli officials have previously claimed Hezbollah uses the port of Beirut to traffic weapons and claiming the blast site was a munitions factory.

The IDF was also quick to deny involvement with the explosion, though at least one of the pro-Israel commentators allowed that the mysterious (and highly explosive) misfortunes befalling both Hezbollah and Iran in recent weeks might have something to do with Tel Aviv’s itchy trigger fingers.

Lebanese authorities have claimed the blasts were the result of an unspecified “incident” at a storage depot holding explosive materials, and both Hezbollah and Lebanese Director of General Security Maj-Gen Abbas Ibrahim denied an Israeli rocket attack was the culprit. However, SV News and a handful of other outlets published unconfirmed reports of a “missile” striking the area, citing witnesses. Hundreds of Beirut residents wounded in the explosions have been taken to nearby hospitals in what Beirut city governor Marwan Aboud called “a national disaster akin to Hiroshima.” The number of wounded victims has surpassed 3k, according to Lebanese authorities.

5 Comments

  1. Peter Hindrup
    Posted August 11, 2020 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    What puzzles me is that Ammonium nitrate, which does not detonate with a match or a spark, when thoroughly mixed with diesel becomes a low-grade explosive, when thoroughly mixed with aluminum ‘filings’ it’s explosive rating is improved but it still not a is still not a powerful explosive.
    Here in Australia ammonium nitrate is used as a fertiliser and is also used in mining operations, largely because it is so safe. When/if stored for long periods does it not clump? Many fertilisers do.
    When used as an explosive it takes a detonator to set it off and if a large amount is being used often multiple detonators to get an even blast.
    There are people who can calculate the amount of TNT, or its equivalent, from the area of destruction and extent of damage done, why have we not heard from such people?

  2. L
    Posted August 18, 2020 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    A fucking nuke…..case closed….destroy with impunity….everyone is scared

  3. niqnaq
    Posted August 18, 2020 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Not a nuke. People who say the ammonium nitrate could not have provided the explosive force demonstrated are incorrect. The questions remain: what caused the original fire, and who stored the ‘fireworks’ next to the ammonium nitrate?

  4. L
    Posted August 22, 2020 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    A fucking nuke…..did you not see the video of the missile from the sea….of course the video was pulled….a fucking nuke

  5. hp
    Posted August 25, 2020 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    My guess,(just like everyone else) is it was a glide bomb (Spice) from an F-35I that supplied the ignition, the initial smaller explosion preceding the big bang. The F-35 glide bomb achieves a controlled glide to a target from as far as 60 miles away! They’ve been striking Syria, Iraq and elsewhere (Iran?) with impunity the last two years..S-300 is ineffective and S-400? Pretty sure they’ve not shot down a F-35.

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