An astonishing picture has emerged claiming to show bags of ammonium nitrate piled on top of each other in a Beirut warehouse.
It is believed some 2,700 tons of the highly explosive chemical were being stored in Warehouse 12 in the city’s port and were ignited by a fire at the nearby Warehouse 9.
The devastating blast levelled the industrial waterfront and sent shockwaves racing through densely populated neighbourhoods killing at least 135 people and injuring thousands.
The New York Times has claimed the ship with its incredibly dangerous shipment of ammonium nitrate was abandoned in September 2013 by Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin after the port declared it unseaworthy and it remained there for nearly seven years. Mr Grechushkin did not comment to the NYT.
The large sacks in the warehouse picture are labelled ‘nitroprill’, similar to ammonium nitrate’s trade name ‘nitropril’, which has one ‘L’ and is produced by Orica, Bellingcat reports.
The difference in spelling could mean the sacks contained a knock off version of the dangerous chemical.
Bellingcat claims the style of the windows in the warehouse roof appear to match other warehouses in the Beirut port, which indicates the picture was taken there.
Investigators have begun searching the wreckage of the port for clues to the cause of the explosion, while the government ordered port officials to be put under house arrest.
Hospitals are now overwhelmed and buildings damaged for miles around the city. Beirut’s governor said that hundreds of thousands might not be able to return to their homes for two or three months.
Meanwhile, an official letter surfaced online showing that the head of the customs department had warned repeatedly over the years that a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored in a hangar in the port was a danger and asked for a way to remove it.
The 2017 letter from the custom’s chief to a judge could not be immediately confirmed.
If authentic, it could deepen the belief already expressed by some Lebanese that widespread mismanagement, negligence and corruption among the country’s ruling class is to blame for the explosion.
President Michael Aoun vowed that the investigation would be transparent and that those responsible will be punished.
‘There are no words to describe the catastrophe that hit Beirut last night,’ he said.
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