August 10 2020 — On August 4 2020, a devastating explosion in the Port of Beirut killed about 150 people and injured more than 1500. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
UPDATE (August 4 2021) — At least 214 people were killed and more than 6,000 others were injured in the August 4 2020 explosion at Beirut’s port. One year later, many questions remain.
According to a 650-page Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, senior Lebanese officials knew the risks posed by highly explosive material stored at the capital’s port.
And yet, these officials ignored repeated internal warnings of the dangers they posed. They failed to protect the public and now they are trying to thwart an investigation into the incident.
According to the report, a lack of judicial independence, constitution-imposed immunity for high-level officials, and a range of procedural and systemic flaws in the domestic investigation rendered it “incapable of credibly delivering justice”.
Clear and Present danger — Leaked official documents indicate that Lebanese customs, military and security authorities, as well as the judiciary, had warned successive governments of the dangerous stockpile of explosive chemicals at the port on at least 10 occasions in the past six years, yet no action was taken. The President also stated that he had knowledge of the danger but had “left it to the port authorities to address.”
Obstruction of justice — The obstruction of Justice is so blatant that it will take Kafka himself to write the full story.
“On 10 December 2020, Judge Fadi Sawan, the first investigative judge appointed, charged former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former Public Works ministers Youssef Fenianos and Ghazi Zeaiter, and caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, with criminal “negligence.” All refused to appear before the judge. Hassan Diab decried the decision as a violation of the constitution. Ghazi Zeaiter and Ali Hassan Khalil filed a lawsuit with the Court of Cassation to remove Judge Sawan from the investigation, citing immunity for MPs from criminal prosecution.
In response, Judge Sawan suspended the investigation on 17 December 2020 for nearly two months. Shortly afterwards on 18 February 2021, Lebanon’s Court of Cassation dismissed Judge Sawan.”
Immunity — Despite this, MPs and officials have been claiming their right to immunity throughout the so-called investigation.
“Granting immunity to political officials directly contradicts Lebanon’s obligations under the UN 2016 Minnesota Protocol which aims to protect the right to life and advance justice, accountability for unlawful deaths. The protocol identifies a potentially unlawful death as occurring “where the State may have failed to meet its obligations to protect life”. In such cases, states have a duty to hold perpetrators accountable, and impunity stemming from “political interference” or “blanket amnesties” directly contradicts that duty.”[A.I.]
Odious Conspiracy Theory
As if this tragedy was not bad enough, there is an attempt to blame the explosion on ‘others’. Pick your favorite villain.
Over the past year, the Guardian has been told by international investigators, Lebanese police sources and by one dockworker that some of the nitrate was moved from the hangar soon after it was delivered.
Lebanese investigators suggest that it may have been moved to Syria to be used in crude explosives, known as barrel bombs, that were dropped from Syrian military helicopters on to opposition-held parts of the country during the peak years of the civil war there. (…)
However, this claim has been contradicted by European investigators, who say an extensive investigation of the port and its activities has shown that large-scale smuggling of nitrate from the site in question – hangar 12 – was unlikely.
Asked about an FBI report that suggested closer to 600 tonnes than 2,750 exploded, the authors of the report concurred, but said the remainder probably burned in the subsequent fire. (…)
[Dockworker Yusuf] Shehadi too doubts that nitrate was smuggled out of the port either at the time it was delivered or subsequently. “There were six doors and they were monitored,” he said. “They would have needed forklifts to move it, and we would have known.”
As I explained in my last update, this is total nonsense. The FBI is dead wrong, again.
I will come back to this issue, but I will point out this analysis presented at the CTBT Science and Technology Conference 2021.
“Our combined analysis of seismological, hydroacoustic, infrasonic and radar remote sensing data allows us to characterize the source as well as to estimate the explosive yield. The latter ranges between 0.8 and 1.1 kt TNT (kilotons of trinitrotoluene) equivalent and is plausible given the reported 2.75 kt of ammonium nitrate as explosive source.”
Using an Ammonium nitrate – TNT RE (relative effectiveness) factor of 40 percent, 0.8 and 1.1 kt TNT equate to 2.0 and 2.75 kt of ammonium nitrate, which is the expected range.
Data from regional seismometers and Global International Monitoring System (IMS) infrasound arrays were analyzed by the Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe (BGR) to derive origin time and seismic magnitude and allow source localization as well as yield estimation.
“Applying both methods to values derived from the three IMS infrasound arrays, an average explosive yield can be estimated as follows: Explosive yield = 0.5 – 1.1 kT TNT equivalent This is in good agreement with the announced amount of 2.75 kT ammonium nitrate being the source of the explosion and having an explosive efficiency of about 30-50% of TNT.”
Moreover, let me point out that Peter Goldstein [Lawrence Livermore National Lab.] used the crater dimensions to estimate the yield of the explosion to be equivalent to approximately 1.4 kilotons of TNT, with a lower bound of about 0.7 kilotons. Again, these yields equate to about 1.7 and 3.5 kt of ammonium nitrate.
Finally, using videos of the explosion, experts from the Blast and Impact Research Group at the University of Sheffield found that a best estimate and upper bound prediction of the yield of the explosion are 0.5 and 1.1 kt of TNT, respectively.
Another study [Diaz, Jorge (2021). “Explosion analysis from images: Trinity and Beirut”. European Journal of Physics] used several videos of the explosion to describe the evolution of the fireball size and estimated the Beirut explosion yield to be 0.6 ± 0.3 kt of TNT.
There is no doubt that the FBI scientists made a mistake in their estimate (0.5 kt of ammonium nitrate) of the yield of the explosion. I hope that the FBI report will be available soon. Don’t bet on it…
As Albert Einstein famously said, “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice.”
Beirut explosion: Drone footage shows port and its surroundings 1 year after deadly blast
Drone footage captured Beirut’s port and surrounding neighbourhoods on Monday, nearly a year after the Aug. 4 blast destroyed large swaths of the city after 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate inside a building at the port exploded.
In some of the most heavily impacted neighbourhoods, damage is still seen with windows blown out and shops remaining as rubble. Construction workers were also seen rebuilding some of the structures that were demolished in the immediate blast zone.
Lebanese are expected to mark the anniversary of one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history with protests and a moment of silence to be held at the exact time the blast took place.
END of UPDATE
UPDATE (August 02 2021) — The FBI is dead wrong. Again! — According to a FBI’s Oct. 7, 2020 report, which was seen by Reuters this week, the Bureau forensic scientists have estimated that around 552 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded on August 4 2020 in the Port of Beirut, much less than the 2,754 tonnes that arrived on a Russian-leased cargo ship in 2013. [REUTERS — FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment]
The amount of ammonium nitrate that blew up at Beirut port last year was one fifth of the shipment unloaded there in 2013, the FBI concluded after the blast, adding to suspicions that much of the cargo had gone missing. (…)
The FBI report does not give any explanation as to how the discrepancy arose, or where the rest of the shipment may have gone.
In response to a detailed request for comment, an FBI spokesperson referred Reuters to the Lebanese authorities.
FBI investigators came to Beirut after the blast at Lebanon’s request.
A senior Lebanese official who was aware of the FBI report and its findings said the Lebanese authorities agreed with the Bureau on the quantity that exploded.
Many officials in Lebanon have previously said in private they believe a lot of the shipment was stolen. (…)
The senior Lebanese official said there were no firm conclusions as to why the quantity that exploded was less than the original shipment. One theory was that part of it was stolen. A second theory was that only part of the shipment detonated, with the rest blown out to sea, the official said.
Let me be very clear. This is complete nonsense!
Most of the blast was directed into the surrounding air, not into the solid ground, so a
80% reduction in apparent yield is to be expected as I explained at the time in this post.
About the 2015 Tianjin explosions
One year ago, I wrote:
An expert from Yale University told Intel Today: “Much of the blast was directed into the surrounding air, not into the solid ground, so I would expect a lower yield estimate. A 80% reduction in apparent yield seems reasonable.”
I may be able to find some information on the decoupling factor from similar previous tragedies such as the 2015 explosion in Tianjin, China.
Here are the facts.
On August 12 2015, a series of explosions killed 173 people, according to official reports, and injured hundreds of others at a container storage station at the Port of Tianjin.
The main explosion involved the detonation of about 800 tons of ammonium nitrate which is about 256 tons TNT equivalent.
At around 23:30 (15:30 UTC), the first explosion occurred and registered as a magnitude 2.3 earthquake, generating seismic shock-waves energetically equivalent to 2.9 tonnes of TNT.
After 30 seconds, a second, much more powerful explosion occurred, causing most of the damage and injuries with shock-waves felt many kilometres away.
The second explosion registered as a magnitude 2.9 earthquake and generated seismic shock-waves with energy equivalent to 21.9 tonnes of TNT.
In other words, the decoupling is 22/256 , which is equivalent to about 90%. This is what one should expect. No surprise.
About TNT equivalent and seismic shock-waves
For well-tamped contained underground explosion tests conducted in hard ground, the magnitude of body waves is proportional to the logarithm of the yield in kilotons of TNT : Mb = 3.8 +0.75 log (Y). The parameters of this equation are obviously depending on the exact nature of the ground.
In my initial post, I used an Ammonium nitrate – TNT RE (relative effectiveness) factor of 0.42. Thus 2,750 tons of AN equates to about 1.1 Kiloton of TNT. But values as low as 0.32 and as high as 0.50 have been used by others.
I have used the magnitude 3.3 as reported by the United States Geological Survey. Others have reported higher values. The UC Berkeley Seismology Laboratory measured mb=3.4 and the German Research Centre for Geosciences, GFZ obtained mb=3.5.
If I had used a magnitude 3.5, I would have obtained a yield of about 0.4 kilotons of TNT (instead of 0.2). And if I had chosen a low value of TNT RE (.3 instead of 0.4), that is equivalent to 1,300 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.
This would imply a 50 % decoupling which is obviously an absolute minimum considering that half of the blast is directed upward and does not push into the ground.
NATURE — Yield estimation of the 2020 Beirut explosion using open access waveform and remote sensing data (July 8 2021)
“We apply an additional method to estimate the yield of the explosion from seismic data. This approach relies on the relation of teleseismic body wave magnitude mb measurements to the seismic yield of an explosion [“Yield estimation from seismic data” section (2)] and results in an estimate of 0.13 to 0.34 kt TNT for the explosion. These values have to be considered a lower bound estimate, as the relations are established for well-coupled underground nuclear explosions.
For a surface explosion only a small portion of the total energy couples into the subsurface as seismic energy and is subsequently considered in the mb measurements. For the estimation based on the body wave magnitude we further assume that the explosive conversion from chemical energy takes place simultaneously resulting in an instantaneous release of seismic energy.“
The reader will notice that my initial estimate (0.2 kilotons of TNT) is right in the middle of the range published in the NATURE article.
And the authors point out correctly that only a small portion of the total energy couples into the subsurface as seismic energy.
This decoupling is at least 50% and possibly much higher (90%) as a quick analysis of the 2015 Tianjin explosions demonstrate.
Finally, in my post I had written:
“There are videos of the blast. If the speed of the mushroom expansion from these videos can be estimated, the yield could be derived in an independent way. The depth of the crater could also be useful in determining the yield of the blast.”
That work has now been done. It will be interesting to do a meta-analysis of all the results obtained by various methods.
For now, I can conclude that the FBI analysis is dead wrong. Once again. This is a blatant case of science politicization. Stay tuned!
PS — The FBI ‘forensic scientists’ of the infamous ‘explosive unit’ are complete morons. What does this story tell you about Pan Am 103?
END of UPDATE
August 10 2020 — Shortly after 18:00 local time (15:00 GMT), the roof of the warehouse caught alight and there was a large initial explosion, followed by a series of smaller — fireworks-like sounding — blasts.
About 30 seconds later, there was a colossal explosion that sent a mushroom cloud into the air. The blast wave created a crater 120 meter wide and 43 meter deep.
The blast wave leveled surrounding buildings and caused extensive damage all over Beirut.
Quick Analysis of the Main Blast
The main explosion was linked to about 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate equivalent to 1.1 kilotons of TNT.
The explosion was detected as a seismic event of magnitude 3.3 by the United States Geological Survey.
A 3.3 magnitude translates into a yield of about 0.2 kilotons of TNT.
This is about 5 times lower than expected but it may be explained by a very inefficient transmission of the shock waves into the ground.
As an expert from Yale University told Intel Today,
“Much of the blast was directed into the surrounding air, not into the solid ground, so I would expect a lower yield estimate. A 80% reduction in apparent yield seems reasonable.”
I may be able to find some information on the decoupling factor from similar previous tragedies such as the 2015 explosion in Tianjin, China.
Mushroom — There are videos of the blast. If the speed of the mushroom expansion from these videos can be estimated, the yield could be derived in an independent way. The depth of the crater could also be useful in determining the yield of the blast.
What is up with the Missile Theory?
Although there is some uncertainty about the primary cause of this explosion, it is fairly safe to conclude that the main explosion was caused by the ignition of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate unsafely stored in this building for almost a decade.
Why would Lebanese president Michel Aoun suggest that a missile may have caused the tragedy?
Intel Today believes that this is actually a message addressed to French President Emmanuel Macron, who suggested that a transparent international inquiry is needed.
If Macron wants transparency about tragedies caused by a missile, the French President could immediately declassify the documents related to at least two major tragedies: Itavia Flight 870 (Ustica – June 27 1980) and the mysterious explosion of “La Maison des Têtes” (Toulon – February 15 1989).
Initially, the crash of Itavia Flight 870 was blamed on a terrorist bomb. However, on January 23 2013, Italy’s top criminal court ruled that there was “abundantly” clear evidence that the flight was brought down by a missile.
Documents from the archives of the Libyan secret service — passed on to Human Rights Watch after the fall of Tripoli — show that Flight 870 was downed by a French jet engaged in a dog fight with a Libyan MiG. France — and Belgium — have refused to collaborate to the investigation on the ground of National Security.
Officially, the tragedy of “La Maison des Têtes” in Toulon is blamed on a gas explosion.
The families of the victims have never accepted this idiotic explanation. Many experts believe that the building was destroyed by a missile fired accidentally by the USS Austin.
French military documents have been classified for 100 years under “SECRET DEFENSE”.
Lebanese president hints missile may be behind blast
2020 Beirut explosions — Wikipedia
expert reaction to Beirut explosion — Science Media Center
What we know about the massive chemical explosion in Beirut — Ars Technica
2015 Tianjin explosions — Wikipedia
Minor Scale — Wikipedia
Beirut Explosion — Negligence or Missile? [Quick Analysis of the Main Blast]