The year 2020 just keeps unleashing fury at the world with all its force. There seems to be no respite from the downward spiral that has been 2020 so far. As if all the other horrendous travesties of 2020 have not been enough to absorb already, I am compelled to write about yet another dark event. On the ill-fated afternoon of August 4, 2020, two massive explosions occurred in Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon. The second explosion was particularly resonant, and resulted in around 220 deaths, 7,000 injuries, approximately $10–15 billion in property damage, and left an estimated 300,000 people homeless. The event was linked to about 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate which is roughly equivalent to around 1.2 kilotons of TNT.
Reports have it that this material had been confiscated by the Lebanese government from the abandoned ship MV Rhosus, owned by the Cyprus-based Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin, which had set sail from Batumi, Georgia, to Beira, Mozambique, carrying 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. The shipment had been ordered by an African explosives manufacturing company for mining in Mozambique. On 21 November 2013, the ship made port in Beirut. The ammonium nitrate had been stored at the port for six years – what’s scary is that there were no specific security measures protecting the highly flammable possession.
The explosion was so strong that it was felt as far as in Turkey, Syria, Israel, and parts of Europe; and was heard in Cyprus more than 250 km away. As of date, it is being considered to be one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history. The explosion was detected by the United States Geological Survey as a seismic event of magnitude 3.3!! Protests have erupted across the country of Lebanon against their government for its failure to prevent the explosions compelling the Lebanese cabinet to resign on August 10, 2020, followed shortly by the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab due to mounting political pressure brought into motion by the catastrophic event. The cause of the ominous explosions was not immediately determined, although Lebanese state media initially reported that they occurred at a fireworks warehouse, while others placed them at an oil storage or chemical storage facility.
There were warehouses in the port that stored explosives and chemicals including nitrates, common components of fertilizers and explosives. The Director General of Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, stated that the ammonium nitrate confiscated from the MV Rhosus had exploded. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International said that, according to attendees of a Higher Defense Council briefing, the fire was ignited by workers welding a door at a warehouse. A former port worker said, “There were 30 to 40 nylon bags of fireworks inside warehouse 12”, where the ammonium nitrate was stored at the port. Hundreds of foreigners from at least 22 countries were among the casualties.
The explosion overturned cars and stripped steel-framed buildings of their cladding. Within the port area, the explosion destroyed a section of shoreline and left a crater roughly 407 feet in diameter and 141 feet in depth. Eye-witnesses said that homes as far as 10 kilometers away were damaged by the devastating blast. Following the incident, representatives of multiple countries and the United Nations offered condolences. In addition to those countries which provided aid, others offered to do so. Notably, Israel offered aid via UN channels, as Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic ties and are technically at war; the offer was turned down by the Lebanese government.