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Beirut Explosion - 05 Aug 2020

Over 200 people were killed and 6,000 wounded in a massive explosion at Beirut's port on 04 August 2020. Up to 300,000 people were left without homes fit to live in after shockwaves smashed building facades, sucked furniture out into streets and shattered windows miles inland. Lebanon's Health Minister updated Beirut blast casualties on 05 August 2020, confirming 135 killed and 5,000 wounded. The health ministry said on 08 August 2020 that 21 people were still missing and up to 6,000 were injured, four days after the massive explosion at the port left 158 people dead. The blast destroyed the country’s main port and damaging large parts of the capital. Losses from the blast are estimated to be between $10 billion to $15 billion,

The prime minister called the blast a "big catastrophe" and vowed that those responsible would pay the price, adding that it happened at a "dangerous" warehouse. Lebanon’s interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, seized years ago, that had been stored there had blown up. The Lebanese president blamed 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate left in warehouse unchecked for six years for the devastating Beirut blast- but ammonium nitrate fertilizer is not explosive. Earlier reports had suggested the building was a fireworks storage warehouse.

The explosion released a shockwave causing widespread damage to buildings and shattering windows in different parts of the city. The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear. Local television quoted hospital sources as saying some 400 to 500 people have been wounded, and that all of the hospitals in the capital are overwhelmed as people were brought in. By later in the day, it appeared that at least five dozen people had been killed, and upwards of 3,000 had been wounded, some severely.

Lebanon's internal security chief Abbas Ibrahim said that a massive blast in Beirut's port area occurred in a section housing highly-explosive materials, and not explosive as had been reported earlier by the official state news agency NNA. Every shop in the Hamra commercial district had sustained damage, with entire shopfronts destroyed, windows shattered and many cars wrecked.

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Israel had nothing to do with the massive explosion that rocked Beirut on 4 August, the country's parliamentary TV channel has announced. A similar statement was made by an anonymous Israeli official in an interview with Reuters, while the country's Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi alleged that the blast was likely an accident caused by a fire. At the same time, a representative for the Israel Defence Forces has declined to comment on the cause of the explosion, specifically on allegations that Israel could be behind it. "We do not comment on foreign media reports", the IDF spokesperson said.

There were at leasat three if not four explosions in the warehouse next to the grain silos. There is a fairly clear sequence of events documented by cell-phone videos of the event:

  1. Around 17:55 local time (14:55 UTC), a team of nine firefighters and one paramedic was dispatched to fight the fire. On arrival the fire crew reported there was "something wrong" as the fire was huge and produced "a crazy sound ..."
  2. The first explosion, at about 18:07 local time (15:07 UTC), sent up a cloud of smoke followed by flashes of light. This initial explosion that blows the roof off the warehouse. Most cell-phone videos do not capture this early event, though it evidently captured observers attention. Although miniscule by the standards of what follows, it was sufficient to send dozens of similar-sized panels sailing through the air, as can be seen in the first few seconds of the video.
  3. A smokey fire ensues.
  4. At about 22 seconds after the first detonation, a chain of seversal dozen smaller bright explosions begin at the warehouse. These explosions are too large to be fireworks, and are consittent with an ammo dump cooking off, with detonation of individual artillery shells or rocket warheads but too large for fireworks.
  5. At about 30 seconds after the initial explosion, there is a very large detonation that initially takes the form of a bright rapidly expanding fireball many hundreds of feet in diameter. This was a single homogeneous material, evidently nitrogen rich as witnessed by the red cloud. This would be ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Both seem to originate from the warehouse next to the grain silos, rather than some from ship docked at the port.
  6. The shock wave from this large blast creates a hemispherical Wilson cloud that momentarily obscures the detonation.
  7. The Wilson cloud dissipates within 2 seconds or so, and the reddish-brown smoke ejected from the exposion continues skyward.

An American diplomatic cable on 7 August said it "remains unclear ... whether fireworks, ammunition or something else stored next to the ammonium nitrate might have been involved" in worsening the warehouse fire and igniting the ammonium nitrate. The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International said that, according to attendees of a Higher Defence Council briefing, the fire was ignited by workers welding a door at a warehouse.

It it well known that an explosion on the surface of the ground or water will produce spectacular cloud phenomena, mainly of the convective type. Air cools when allowed to expand, and at a certain point cooling vapor becomes supersaturated, i.e., it carries more moisture than it normally would at that temperature and will try to "unload" the moisture on any available surface. The same phenomenon is seen when moisture condenses on a cold glass in warm weather. Air passing through the shock undergo a sudden expansion and on occasion temporarily drive the relative humidity to supersaturation. Under these conditions the radii of water droplet aerosols present can grow many orders of magnitude, thereby momentarily forming a cloud in a region behind the advancing shock.

Particles produced by nuclear decay, cosmic radiation and reactions can be identified through various methods. One of these methods that had been effective in the early 20th century was the cloud chamber, in which particle tracks through a gas are made visible by condensation of water droplets on the ions produced. Cloud chambers are highly regarded as teaching aids for radiation education, school teachers have difficulty in using cloud chambers because they have to prepare dry ice or liquid nitrogen before the experiment. Of the many forms of the Wilson cloud chamber arranged for auto- matic operation, which have been devised, those operated on the exhaust, or "vacuum," principle of the original chamber built in 1912 by C.T.R.Wilson, have proved most satisfactory. Wilson’s technique was promptly followed with startling success in all parts of the world. The cloud chamber method led to two Nobel Prizes: this discovery earned Charles Thomson Rees Wilson a share of the 1927 Nobel Prize. Improving on that method, P.M.S. Blackett received the 1948 Nobel Prize for the development of the Wilson cloud chamber.

Crossroads Baker shotSome of the most important achievements using the Wilson chamber were: the demonstration of the existence of Compton recoil electrons, thus establishing beyond any doubt the reality of the Compton effect (Compton shared the Nobel Prize with Wilson in 1927); the discovery of the positron by Anderson (who was awarded the Nobel Prize for 1936 for this feat); the visual demonstration of the processes of “pair creation” and “annihilation” of electrons and positrons by Blackett and Occhialini; and that of the transmutation of atomic nuclei carried out by Cockcroft and Walton. Thus, Rutherford’s remark that the cloud chamber was “the most original and wonderful instrument in scientific history” has been fully justified.

The condensation cloud is sometimes called the Wilson cloud (or cloud-chamber effect) because it is the result of conditions analogous to those utilized by scientists in the Wilson cloud chamber. The passage of a high-pressure shock front in air is followed by a rarefaction (or suction) wave. During the compression (or blast) phase, the temperature of the air rises and during the decompression (or suction) phase it falls. For moderately low blast pressures, the temperature can drop below its original, preshock value, so that if the air contains a fair amount of water vapor, condensation accompanied by cloud formation will occur. The relatively high humidity of the air makes the conditions for the formation of the condensation cloud most favorable in explosions occurring over (or under) water,

The nuclear testing program at Bikini Atoll was a series of 23 nuclear weapons tests detonated by the United States starting in 1946. The first series of tests over Bikini Atoll in July 1946 was code named “Operation Crossroads”. The Baker bomb was detonated by Los Alamos scientists inside its steel and concrete caisson, suspended 90 feet beneath LSM-60, and approximately 90 feet above the lagoon bottom. Energy release was equivalent to approximately 20 kilotons of TNT. A fireball was formed that illuminated the water with an orange-white light for a few millionths of a second before the high-pressure gases of the ball erupted to the surface. The shock wave formed a "blast slick" of white water on the surface, emanating out from the zeropoint in a "rapidly advancing circle" formed by the hurtling of small water droplets short distances into the air. At two seconds the shock front had travelled two miles from the zeropoint. The condensation of the water formed a vast "Wilson Cloud" some 1 or 2 seconds after detonation, which dispersed into a dissipating ring of clouds that vanished after a few more seconds.

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Israel offered humanitarian aid to Lebanon, with which it is still technically at war, after the explosions. "Following the explosion in Beirut, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, on behalf of the State of Israel, have offered the Lebanese government -- via international intermediaries -- medical and humanitarian aid, as well as immediate emergency assistance," said a joint statement from the two ministries. Meanwhile, Iran's top diplomat expressed Tehran's support for the "resilient" people of Lebanon after the blasts. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the great and resilient people of Lebanon," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. "As always, Iran is fully prepared to render assistance in any way necessary," he said. "Stay strong, Lebanon."

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Given the distressing tendency of late towards spontaneous detonations of all things associated with the IRGC, the starting point of any inquiry would have to be the Zionist Entity, though careless handling cannot be excluded. One might imagine that the Israeli targeting planners may have gotten a bit more than they bargained for, but as they say, no one is innocent, and God will know his own, or other such words of comfort in the face of the awful. For bonus points, students of large explosions might compare and contrast the Wilson cloud, white shock slick on the water, and other symptoms of such affairs as seen in this detonation with that seen with Bikini Baker.

Some local media reported sightings of drones or planes flying in the area shortly before the explosion and some Beirut residents said they saw missiles fired. But officials have denied the incident was the result of an attack. A Lebanese security source said the initial blaze that sparked the explosion was caused by welding work.

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Lebanon's Supreme Defense Council said on 04 August 2020 that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate from an abandoned ship had been left in storage at Beirut's port. The chemical had been impounded on its way to Mozambique, according to reports from the time. Lebanese officials believed it was behind the explosion at Beirut's port. The ship, the MV Rhosus, had technical difficulties while sailing in September 2013, was forced into Beirut's port, and was banned from continuing. The ship's owner abandoned it, and the cargo was kept in Beirut.

The issue on storing the material safely had come before several committees and judges and "nothing was done" to order the material be removed or disposed of. A team that inspected the material six months ago warned it could "blow up all of Beirut" if not removed. The head of Beirut port and the head of customs both said on Wednesday that several letters were sent to the judiciary asking for the dangerous material be removed, but no action was taken.

NitroprilThe material was said to be Nitropril™, a physically robust porous prill with a built in resistance to breakdown due to temperature cycling and abrasion. The upper limit for storing Nitropril safely, according to the manufacturer, is 400 metric tons. NitroPril is a small diameter, spherical white solid. It is an organic amide molecule containing 46% nitrogen in the form of amine groups. NitroPril is infinitely soluble in water and is suitable for use as an agricultural, forestry, and general grass fertilizer as well as for industrial applications which require a high quality nitrogen source. It is not a poison to mammals or birds and is a benign and safe chemical to handle. NitroPril is used as a slow release fertilizer. It must be decomposed by microorganisms before it can be assimilated by plants. Apply NitroPril at 15 to 30g/m² either as a solid top dressing. As a solution apply 5 to 10g/m². At this rate 1Kg will fertilise an area 200m² ALWAYS exercise caution when using this chemical as fertilizer because it has the highest nitrogen content of any solid. NitroPril will decompose into ammonia and carbon dioxide at 275oF. ALWAYS wash vessels containing NitroPril thoroughly before attempting repairs requiring welding. NitroPril must never be allowed to come into contact with nitric acid. The resulting chemical is unstable and hazardous.

Ammonium nitrate on its own is not combustible, however it supports the combustion of other materials. Contact with combustible material may cause fire. Decomposes on heating emitting irritating white fumes and/or brown fumes. Brown fumes indicate the presence of toxic oxides of nitrogen. A major fire may involve a risk of explosion. Evacuate area immediately. Allow fire to burn out. An adjacent detonation may also involve the risk of explosion. Heating can cause decomposition of the material, which can lead to the containers exploding. Confinement of material may result in detonation. In the case of an intense fire evacuate all personnel to a least 1000 metres. Police and emergency personnel should be notified immediately. If possible remove vehicles and further heat and ignition sources from area. Do not return to areas until the site has completely cooled down. AN may explode under confinement and high temperature, but is not readily detonated. AN may explode due to nearby detonations.

BeirutThe total yield of the larger second detonation may be estimated [Henry F. Coope] based on the size of the resulting crater, but this is earier said than done. Nuclear and chemical explosions are consistent in indicating that of the crater radii scale as a power of energy. In practice, this requires knowledge of the naature of the material on which the dock was constructed, and a there is an order of magnitude range in the excavated volume of the crater, with hard rock producing the smallest crater [500 ft3/ton yield], and various combinations of wet sand [6,000 ft3/ton yield] or wet clay [10,000 ft3/ton yield] producing the largetst craters.

By one estimate [A.W. Patteson], a surface burst detonation with a yield of 1,000 tons TNT equivalent [ie, 1 kt] would have a radius of at least 60 feet and as great as 140 feet, depending on the nature of the surface material. The Beirut crater has a North/South radius of about 200 feet, and an East/West radius of about 150 feet. Within the range of uncertainty of crater estimation, these dimensions are consistent with the detonation of the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate seized in 2015.

George William Herbert, an adjunct professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies Center for Nonproliferation Studies and a missile and effects consultant, used two methods to estimate the yield of the explosion. According to Herbert, the first method was done by using visual evidence of the blast itself along with damage assessments. The second calculation was based on the amount of ammonium nitrate reportedly at the source of the explosion. Both techniques estimate the yield as a few hundred tons of TNT equivalent, with the overlap being 200 to 300, Herbert told Reuters.

Reuters also spoke to an Israeli analyst on 13 August 2020 who said that seismological data suggests that six blasts preceded the main explosion. According to the analyst, the last of the six smaller blasts resulted in the combustion of fireworks that set off a warehouse full of ammonium nitrate. “I cannot say categorically what caused this, but I can say these blasts were at the same location,” the Israeli analyst told Reuters.

And there were two detonations. Regardless of the precise nature of the stupendous second detonation, it was clearly triggered by the much smaller initial detonation, which has many of the hallmarks of an ammo dump fire.

There are several dozen instances of large explosions entailing Ammonium nitrate fertilizer, but generally there is an intervening variable that explains the explosion of this normally inert material. Unlike dynamite and many other explosives, it does not become less stable and more dangerous with age. Ammonium nitrate had been used as an explosive by the US Army in World War II and, after the war ended, production of the chemical continued as its use as a fertilizer became accepted. A giantic explosion occured on 16 April 1947 during the loading of Ammonium nitrate onto the freighter Grandcamp at a pier in Texas City, Texas. Nearly 600 people were killed and more than 5,000 people were injured. To put out a fire, the captain closed the hatch covers and sent steam under pressure. Unfortunately, the heat of the steam accelerated the reaction. A stock of 500 tons of ammonium nitrate on the quay also caught fire, but burned without exploding. This difference in behavior was explained by the greater confinement in the holds of ships.

Ammonium nitrate readily explodes if heated, thoguh is difficult to explode by shock. It does not readily burn but will do so if contaminated with combustible material. It accelerates the burning of combustible material. Ammonium nitrate produces toxic oxides of nitrogen during combustion. It is used to make fertilizers and explosives, and as a nutrient in producing antibiotics and yeast. With a large quantity of ammonium nitrate, localized areas of high temperature may be sufficiently confined by the mass of material to initiate an explosion.

In a landmark 1965 study, Robert W Van Dolah, et al concluded that "... the experimental results supported by an analytical study indicate that the initiation of detonation in AN from fire exposure in normal storage and from transportation incidents is quite improbable. The detonation of AN in recent incidents more likely may have resulted from the effects of adjacent explosions.

"The conditions under which AN may explode when subjected to intense fire exposure have never been satisfactorily defined. Debate still continues on the exact causes of the four ship explosions that involved AN from 1947 to 1948, but since the AN involved in the ship explosions was an organic coated material whose burning characteristics are substantially different from presently manufactured fertilizer-grade AN, the chance of the latter detonating as the result of fire has been considered to be small or even nonexistent. The record6 of present-day AN in fires during storage and transportation is very reassuring, with one exception. On December 17, 1960, near Traskwood, Ark., a 23-freight car derailment occurred following a journal box failure on one of the cars in the train. Included were one car of AN bagged and one car of bulk AN as well as a wide variety of other materials including nitrogenfertilizer solution, fuming nitric acid, petroleum products and paper. An intense fire occurred and subsequently through unknown circumstances the car of bagged AN detonated."

Ammonium nitrate, for its weight, supplies more gas upon detonation than any other explosive. In pure form, ammonium nitrate is almost inert (powerless) and is composed of 60 percent oxygen by weight, 33 percent nitrogen, and seven percent hydrogen. Two characteristics make this compound both unpredictable and dangerous. Ammonium nitrate is water soluble and if uncoated, can attract water from the atmosphere and slowly dissolve itself. For this reason, most prills have a protective coating of wax or clay which acts as a moisture retardant. The second and most important characteristic is a phenomenon called “cycling.” This is the ability of a material to change its crystal form with temperature. During the summer, in poorly ventilated powder magazines, the cycling temperature may be reached daily. As cycling continues and more water collects, the mass starts to dissolve and upon dissolving, starts to recrystallize into large crystals.

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NASA's Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team, in collaboration with the Earth Observatory of Singapore, used satellite-derived synthetic aperture radar data to map the likely extent of damage from a massive Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut. Synthetic aperture radar data from space shows ground surface changes from before and after a major event like an earthquake. In this case, it is being used to show the devastating result of an explosion.

On the map, dark red pixels – like those present at and around the Port of Beirut – represent the most severe damage. Areas in orange are moderately damaged and areas in yellow are likely to have sustained somewhat less damage. Each colored pixel represents an area of 30 meters (33 yards). Maps like this one can help identify badly damaged areas where people may need assistance. The explosion occurred near the city's port. It claimed more than 150 lives and is estimated to have caused billions of dollars' worth of damage. The map contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data processed by ESA (European Space Agency) and analyzed by ARIA team scientists at NASA JPL, Caltech, and Earth Observatory of Singapore. Located in Pasadena, California, Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Secretary General of the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance movement Seyed Hassan Nasrallah categorically denied the Western reports that the fatal blast in Beirut had been caused by the missiles and ammunition that Hezbollah may have stockpiled at the port. In a televised speech on 07 august 2020, Nasrallah rejected reports that stores of ammunition belonging to Hezbollah have caused the August 4 explosion in Beirut port. “I categorically deny the claim that Hezbollah has stores of missiles, ammunition or anything else,” he noted. Nasrallah also offered deep condolences to the families of the martyrs of the Beirut blast, hoping a speedy recovery for the wounded.

“Just after the explosion, some local and Arab TV channels as well as social media pages adopted an alleged scenario which claims that Beirut port’s warehouse which exploded contained missiles or ammunition of Hezbollah. Although official sources denied the presence of missiles in the port and confirmed the existence of nitrate used for agricultural and industrial purposes, they (local and Arab TV channels) insisted that the ammonium nitrate had been stored by Hezbollah for six years in order to blame the party for the explosion,” he deplored.

Hezbollah is responsible for the explosion that took the lives of at least 135 people in Beirut, former Israeli military chief and defense minister Moshe Ya'alon asserted in an interview published by Saudi outlet Elaph on 07 Augsut 2020. According to Ya'alon, an arms warehouse belonging to the Shiite terror group had caught fire and led to the ammonium nitrate stored in the Beirut port to blow up.

Danny Danon, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, also accused Hezbollah and Iran of using Beirut Port to transfer weapons using commercial companies. “Israel discovered that Iran and its Quds Force have been exploiting civilian maritime channels, and specifically the Port of Beirut,” Danon said 07 August 2020. “The Iranian regime is transferring weapons in various ways. They use commercial companies, mainly from Europe, to support Hezbollah and develop its missile program. Unfortunately, the Port of Beirut has become Hezbollah’s port.”

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun rejected any international probe into the catastrophic Beirut port blast, saying a missile or negligence could have been responsible. What ignited the 2,750 tonnes of fertiliser was still unclear – officials said work had recently begun on repairs to the warehouse, while fireworks were said to be stored nearby.

Varyious security forces currently control the Beirut port namely Customs, the General Security, the army’s intelligence services and more recently the State security. The US Treasury has nonetheless accused Hezbollah of controlling many of Beirut’s port facilities. Certain sections of the Port and the airport are used for smuggling military shipments to Hezbollah. Terminal 5 was a transit point for the party in the Beirut port. The port remains also a lucrative business for all of Lebanon’s corrupt elite. For former CIA officer Robert Bauer, if the port was being used to store weapons, military ammunition in the vicinity of the ammonium nitrate could explain the explosion, as it would have acted as a booster to the blast.

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah vehemently denied having ties to the ammonium nitrate stored at the port. Yet, if there is evidence that showed an Israeli act of sabotage or attack, and if Hezbollah did not respond, it would deal a blow to the party among its support base. This is a political game and by not ruling out an Israeli attack, Aoun was forcing Hezbollah to give him something in the next government formed. This could mean no direct Hezbollah participation in order to relieve pressure from the US. n international investigation would mean the end of Lebanon as these politicians know it.

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Page last modified: 17-08-2020 14:17:53 ZULU