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Beirut is still reeling from a devastating explosion which destroyed a portion of the Lebanese capital’s port. Videos showed a violent burst emerge from a building on the city’s coastline, which cascaded through the immediate area and miles further. Lebanese authorities have spent the last two days attempting to clear through the aftermath, and estimated fatalities continue to increase.
How many people died in Beirut?
The latest estimates suggest at least 135 people have died, and authorities are still searching for survivors.
The blast also injured 5,000 others as it swept into the outskirts of the city.
Officials said they expect the death toll will continue to rise as workers sift through the rubble.
Up to 300,000 people have lost their homes, according to city governor Marwan Abboud.
Authorities said they would set up temporary housing and shelter for those impacted.
Dr Manal Abdel Samad Najd, Lebanon’s minister of information, announced the government would impose a national state of emergency.
The state of emergency will last two weeks and gives officials sweeping powers to arrest the people they hold culpable for the explosion.
How did the explosion happen?
The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, although many people witnessing it uploaded videos to social media.
They showed sparks and black smoke emerging a warehouse located in one of the city’s ports before a shockwave burst outwards, immediately levelling buildings in the near vicinity.
The scope of the blast immediately raised alarm bells among some people, with many theorising it was a terrorist attack or a fire at a Hezbollah weapons cache.
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But after some investigation, authorities said they believe ammonium nitrate was the cause.
The warehouse was allegedly storing some 2,700 tonnes of the chemical, commonly used as a fertiliser.
On its own, ammonium nitrate is not an unstable element which people can handle without issue.
Experts believe the chemical was left to decay in Beirut over some time – likely years – which left it to mix with another compound, such as oil, and violently explode when ignited.
What caused the explosion remains unclear, but port authorities said they had repeatedly asked to remove the ammonium nitrate to no avail.
Speaking in an interview, Hassan Koraytem, general manager of Beirut port, said “nothing happened” despite requests to customs and security officials.
He added: “We were told the cargo would be sold in an auction. But the auction never happened and the judiciary never acted.”
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab has vowed he will “not relax” until “we find the responsible party for what happened, hold it accountable and apply the most serious punishments against it.”
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