The death toll in Beirut climbed to more than 100 overnight after an horrific explosion linked to a warehouse stocked with ammonium nitrate fertilizer slammed the Lebanese capital Tuesday.
Even in a city with a long history of enduring explosions the blast at the city’s ranked as catastrophic. Felt in distant Cyprus more than 150 miles away, the explosion flattened the port and left thousand homeless throughout the city.
Casualties estimated in the thousand crowded hospitals already at capacity with COVID-19 patients. Many of the injured went without treatment for an extended period following the blast.
Economic conditions in the city has already reduced electricity to an occasional convenience. Rescue work through the night was illuminated by batteries and generators rather than the utility service.
Initially, Lebanon state-run NNA news reported that a fire had broken out in a warehouse storing fireworks near the Beirut port. Reports about the warehouse contents then shift to confiscated explosives.
Finally, it emerged that the confiscated material stored more than six years at the same site was 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, a compound with a long history as both an agricultural fertilizer and explosive widely used in munitions during and since World War II.
The deadliest industrial accident in American history involved ammonium nitrate. In April 1947, the French-registered freighter SS Grandcamp caught fire at the port at Texas City, Texas. The cargo of 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer detonated in the first of two massive explosions that killed 581 people, including the entire city fire department save one person.
Ammonium nitrate has since been linked to many industrial explosions since, including Brest, France in 1947; Roseburg, Oregon, in 1959; Port Neal, Iowa, in 1994; Toulouse, France, in 2001; West, Texas, in 2013, and the Port of Tianjin, China, in 2015.
The explosion in West, Texas, killed 15 people, injured 160 and damaged or destroyed 150 buildings. That blast involved only 30 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at a fertilizer plant that caught fire. In 2009, a fertilizer plant in Bryan, Texas, burned to the ground without detonating nearly 550 tons on ammonium nitrate on hand.
In Lebanon, the government has announced an investigation to determine the exact cause of the disaster and who is responsible.