On Tuesday afternoon, Ahmed Yassine was in his car, heading home from work, when a massive explosion shook Beirut, shattering glass, toppling buildings and burying numerous people under the rubble. Yassine, a senior producer at Alaraby TV, said that at that time, he saw “a cloud of smoke” cover everything. He stated that he jumped out of his car and saw people flying while screaming, and stores, apartments, houses, everything fell down. He was around 4 kilometers from the radius of the explosion when it occurred, but luckily, he escaped harm.
In the video footage, mere minutes after the first, there was a shocking moment when the second explosion hit, and windows were browned for kilometers after towering plumes of smoke climbed into the sky from the port when a second, red cloud shot up. After the explosion, the officials reported that more than 70 people were killed and more than 3,000 were injured. The blast could be heard and felt in Cyprus, more than 200 kilometers away.
Nada Hamza, another resident of the city, was even closer to the blast when it reverberated through the city. She reported that she was in the street just behind the port of Beirut. Just like Yassine, she was in her car when she heard the first warning sounds of the devastation that was to come. Thinking at first that it might be protesters having a “fight or clash with the government,” she rolled down her window to ask others in the street what was happening, but then the sound shifted to sound like airplanes. She felt that it could be an attack from Israel as there have been rising tensions recently between Lebanon and Israel. That is when she saw the smoke and the fire and heard the explosion.
Hamza initially abandoned her vehicle in the middle of the street and ran away to hide in a building. She was perplexed and scared as the street was almost destroyed. She remembered watching Chernobyl, a television show that dramatized the infamous 1986 disaster at a nuclear plant with the same name in the then-Soviet republic of Ukraine. She noted that the comparison was not far off, as early reports indicate that the second, larger explosion, was a chemical explosion. The first explosion happened at 6:05 p.m. local time at a fireworks warehouse at the port.
Abbas Ibrahim, the chief of Lebanese General Security, has said that the explosion may have been caused by highly explosive materials that had been confiscated by a ship and had been stored at the port for some time. According to a local television channel LBC, the material was sodium nitrate. Yassine said the explosion felt different from what they have faced wars. Because of the financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a huge blow to a city and country. Hamza pointed out that their hospitals are not that ready to hold too many people because of COVID-19. She acknowledged that the true toll of this tragedy is something they aren’t able to wrap their heads around yet.
Yassine concluded that he wants accountability for how this could have occurred. He stated, “[the sodium nitrate] was stored for more than a year without taking any precaution. The authorities didn’t destroy these materials. In fact, they kept it. They kept it stored without even warning anyone. Today, it exploded in the port. Someone must pay for that.
Especially the people who are responsible for storing such materials in a place where there are many people around.”