It looked like something straight out of the movies. The impact of the explosions that rocked Beirut on Tuesday was cataclysmic. The storage depot in port of Beirut exploded.
And then Beirut, the capital of Lebanon and a once beautiful city crumbled to the ground.
Experts have said that this is one of the largest — if not the largest, non-nuclear explosion in history.
The numbers of victims and injured is high and they will continue to climb.
There is so much rubble and so many people are reported missing that more deaths are an inevitable reality of the blast. We have no clear idea of the true size of the devastation and we will not have an idea for a long time.
When looking at the footage it appears that there were three blasts at the port, not two as was initially reported by many media outlets. First came a whitish grey blast. Then a reddish-brown blast. Finally, a huge white mushroom cloud.
Cyprus is 100 miles away from Beirut. The blast was so loud and the impact so fierce that the island country not only saw the explosions, Cypriots heard and felt the explosions. Most of the destruction resulting from an explosion does not come from the explosion itself.
The destruction comes from the sound waves, much like in the famous classic, commercial for Memorex with Ella Fitzgerald. The great vocalist sings and a glass breaks as she reaches a high note. The narrator asks: "Is it Ella or Is It Memorex?"
Sound waves cause destruction.
Lebanon is hurting in so many ways. Loss of life, loss of business, loss of infrastructure and now this devastation, right smack in the middle of coronavirus which has stung them very badly.
The estimated cost of the damage is $15 billion, and that too will climb.
Given that Lebanon has a population of only 6.8 million and a GDP of $58 billion, that number is bigger than huge.
Stored properly, ammonium nitrate is relatively safe. But the more you have and the longer it sits, certainly when it sits in poorly ventilated storage bunkers, the more unstable the powder becomes.
Accidents with ammonium nitrate are not unusual. In 2001 in Toulouse, France 2,500 people were injured and 31 were killed in an ammonium nitrate accident. In 2013, in Texas, it caused a huge explosion. In 2015, in China, another explosion. They all pale in comparison to the explosion of 2020 in Beirut.
Ammonium nitrate is most often and most commonly, used in fertilizer. But it has a nefarious side, it can be used in other ways. It can be used in bombs. In fact, ammonium nitrate has regularly been used for bombs.
The IRA used it in their bombs in London. The Oklahoma City bomber used it in his bomb. It was used in the Bali nightclub bombings.
Just about anywhere a huge explosion takes place, it can be traced to ammonium nitrate. And it is often used in small explosions, as well. The bombs that are placed in cars and trucks are often ammonium nitrate.
The more ammonium nitrate used, the more destruction ensues.
The amount of ammonium nitrate that sat and sat and sat in the port of Beirut is difficult to comprehend. 2,750 tons is a recipe for an explosion. 2,750 tons is 5,500,000 pounds. That's what exploded in Beirut. Dangerous by any estimate, this was an explosion waiting to happen.
If this was an accident, it could — and should, have been avoided. If this was an intentional blast, we may never know. The force of the second and third blasts blew up all the evidence.
The world felt Lebanon's pain.
Offers of help came from around the globe. French President Emmanuel Macron visited Lebanon on Thursday. Saudi Arabia offered assistance, as did England and the United States. And the United Nations. And Israel.
In the immediate aftermath of the explosions, Israel offered to help in finding victims buried in the rubble. They have the experience and they are the best in the world at this grueling task. Israel has standing teams that rush to catastrophes — wherever they are, whenever they are permitted to enter, and they save lives.
Lebanon said "no" to the teams. They also said no to Israeli hospital help. Injured U.N. forces, especially injured UNIFIL personnel, were, however, evacuated to Israeli hospitals.
And on Wednesday night Tel Aviv's City Hall lit up the entire building displaying the flag of Lebanon. Green, red and white with a Cedar of Lebanon in the center.
It was a gesture. Tel Aviv was saying we, too, feel your pain. And that, too, was rejected. Many voices in Lebanon expressed incredulity, some people were insulted that Israel, which sometimes bombs Lebanon, would show solidarity with them.
Hezbollah head Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, even suggested that it was Israel that blew up the ammonium nitrate in Beirut, much like they are behind the explosions taking place in Iran.
They just don't get it. This was not about war, not about politics, not about Arab versus Jew. This was a tragedy — a colossal tragedy. And tragedy brings out the best in good people. And the worst in everybody else.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.
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