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Ammonium Nitrate Stored In a Warehouse Linked To Cataclysmic Beirut Explosion

A warehouse storing thousands of tons of unsecured highly explosive material has emerged as a possible source of the immense blast that ripped through the Beirut City on Tuesday, killing at least 100 people, injuring 4,000 and sending a shock wave across the city that damaged buildings and blew out windows up to 10 kilometers away. The country’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the blast was caused by around 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored near the city’s cargo port.

Ammonium nitrate has the chemical formula NH₄NO₃. Produced as small porous pellets, or “pills”, it’s one of the world’s most widely used fertilizers.

It is also the main component in many types of mining explosives, where it’s mixed with fuel oil and detonated by an explosive charge.

An injured man walks at the explosion scene that hit the seaport, in Beirut Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said that 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, which is typically used as an agricultural fertilizer, had been stored for six years at a port warehouse without safety measures, “endangering the safety of citizens.”

It’s still not exactly clear what led to the ignition that wiped out entire streets across the seaside capital.

The secretary-general of the Lebanese Red Cross, Georges Kettaneh, told Lebanon’s National News Agency Wednesday that at least 100 people have been killed, saying the disaster is “unprecedented and very large.”

The organization said it has set up multiple temporary shelters with food, hygiene kits and basic needs to receive 1,000 families who have lost their homes.  The orange cloud that towered over the city following the blast was indicative of nitrate explosions, experts said, and suggested the release of toxic nitrogen dioxide into the air.

It appeared to be the most powerful blast ever felt in this city despite it having endured the 1975-90 civil war, a 1983 suicide attack on the United States embassy that killed 63 people and a bombing of the peacekeepers headquarters in the same year, and a massive truck bomb in 2005 that killed its former prime minister.

By Linda Amiani,

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