A massive explosion shook Beirut on Tuesday, Aug. 4. The latest reports indicate that the incident caused 100 fatalities while more than 4,000 people were injured.

What Happened?

The explosion occurred in the center of the Lebanese capital Beirut on Tuesday evening. Footage published on social media showed a column of smoke rising in the vicinity of the harbor area, after which a pressure wave occured. The latter caused significant destruction in the streets of the city center. Even more than a kilometer away windows and balcony doors broke and collapsed and falling walls were seen. Large parts of the port have been razed, and many buildings in Beirut have been seriously damaged.

In the immediate aftermath, the Lebanese army helped bring the injured to hospitals and called for the donation of blood. As of Wednesday morning, the Lebanese Red Cross has put the number of deaths at least 100. More than 4,000 people are also injured, the aid organization confirmed earlier today. The number could still increase significantly, as officials in Lebanon say people are buried under the rubble. The governor of the capital spoke of a “national disaster comparable to Hiroshima.”

What Caused the Explosion?

While the exact reason for the explosion currently remains unclear, different speculations have been put forward.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Tuesday evening that a substantial amount of ammonium nitrate could have caused the detonation. An estimated 2,750 tons of the substance were reportedly stored in a hall at the port for six years without safety precautions. As Diab said, this was “unacceptable.” Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has called for an emergency cabinet meeting this Wednesday saying: “I won’t rest until I know the person in charge and give him the toughest punishment.”

The explosion in Beirut from satellite

Ammonium nitrate, which can also be used to produce explosive devices, can detonate at high temperatures. The substance is used for rocket propulsion and above all for the production of fertilizers. The colorless crystals were also in the dangerous goods warehouse in the Chinese city of Tianjin, where 173 people were killed in 2015 after a series of explosions.

Alternate Theories About the Explosion

Other interpretations are currently still circulating. President Trump, citing his generals, stated the explosion in Beirut was an attack.

There has been armed conflict in the border area with Israel in the past few days. In addition, Israel’s air force had bombed Iranian targets in Syria that night. However, Israeli media, citing senior government officials, has stated that Israel was not involved.

The port is also an essential epicenter in Lebanon, which is notorious for corruption and mismanagement: millions of goods and money have been disappearing there in opaque networks for decades. Opposite the port area is the party headquarters of the Kataeb, the country’s oldest Christian party, but also the Ministry of Energy, in front of which people have been demonstrating for months against the inflated prices and low quality of state services.

Approaching UN Verdict on Hezbollah Attack

Moreover, a significant court ruling is also expected for this Friday: A UN special tribunal will then announce its verdict on four Hezbollah members suspected of being involved in the bombing of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri 15 years ago. A correlation between the ruling and the explosion was fueled by reports of a second explosion in Beirut near the Future Movement headquarters, Tayyar al-Mustaqbal, headed by Hariri’s son. Saad Hariri, who led the country as prime minister for a long time after the death of his father, announced his resignation in autumn 2019.

Lebanon is in Economic and Political Freefall

Lebanon is currently going through a period of considerable volatility: an economic and financial crisis has put the state on the verge of bankruptcy. Inflation and unemployment have risen rapidly recently, even the once broad middle class threatens to become impoverished. Despite urgently needed loans, the government was unable to agree on reforms required by the International Monetary Fund.

Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti resigned on Monday after only six months because of the cabinet’s horrid balance sheet and only on Tuesday, demonstrators tried to storm the Ministry of Energy in Beirut after weeks of massive blackouts.

Meanwhile, UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres has already pledged to support the country, promising to actively help to process the incident and support the country in this difficult time.