Beirut blast one of largest non-nuclear explosions in history, says UK university study

The Sheffield University report put the Beirut blast, which tore through the Lebanese capital and killed more than 190 people on Aug. 4, at one-twentieth the strength of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 05 October 2020

Beirut blast one of largest non-nuclear explosions in history, says UK university study

  • More than 190 people killed in the Aug. 4 tragedy

LONDON: The Beirut port disaster was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, according to a UK university study.

The devastating blast yielded the equivalent of between 500 and 1,100 tons of TNT, researchers from Sheffield University’s Civil and Structural Engineering department said.

The report put the blast, which tore through the Lebanese capital and killed more than 190 people on Aug. 4, at one-twentieth the strength of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, which was in the range of 13-15 kilotons of TNT equivalent.

The study, by the university’s Blast and Impact Engineering Research Group, was published in the journal Shock Waves. It used videos and imagery from social media to determine how the explosion’s shockwave flew across Beirut and the impact it left in its wake.




(Screenshot: "Preliminary yield estimation of the 2020 Beirut explosion using video footage from social media" - University of Sheffield Department of Civil and Structural Engineering.)

“The Beirut explosion is interesting because it sits almost directly in a sort of no-man’s land between the largest conventional weapons and nuclear weapons,” Dr. Sam Rigby, from the research group, told BBC News. “It was about 10 times bigger than the biggest conventional weapon, and 10 to 20 times smaller than the early nuclear weapons.”

Judging by the study’s findings, the Beirut blast was in the top 10 in terms of the most powerful accidental man-made explosions in history, Rigby added. “Beirut’s certainly the most powerful non-nuclear explosion of the 21st century.”

The group hopes its findings can assist emergency planners deal better with similar disasters in the future, with data assisting first responders to help predict the nature of injuries and any structural damage at various distances from a blast.

“The disaster that hit Beirut this summer was devastating and we hope that nothing like that ever happens again. This was an unprecedented event because never before has such a large explosion been so well-documented,” Rigby said. “The reason why we decided to analyse the explosion is because, as engineers, it’s our job to use the skills and resources we have at our disposal to solve problems and ultimately to help people.




(Screenshot: "Preliminary yield estimation of the 2020 Beirut explosion using video footage from social media" - University of Sheffield Department of Civil and Structural Engineering.)

“After seeing the events unfold, we wanted to use our expertise in blast engineering to help understand what had happened in Beirut and provide data that could be used to help prepare for, and save lives in such events should they ever happen again.

“By understanding more about the power of large-scale accidental explosions like the one that occurred in Beirut, we can develop more accurate predictions of how different buildings will be affected, and the types of injuries there are likely to be at different distances from the blast.”

Investigations into the disaster determined that the explosion was the result of an accidental detonation of nearly three kilotons of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored without proper safety measures in one of the port’s warehouses since 2014.

The blast also injured more than 6,500 people.

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“Think of it like a kid on a swing,” Rigby said. “If you push the child and see how far they go, you can then work out how hard the push was. That's essentially how we work out the yield.

“When we know what the yield is from these sorts of events, we can then work out the loading that comes from that. And that tells us how to construct buildings that are more resilient. Even things like glazing. In Beirut, glazing damage was reported up 10 km away from the center of the explosion, and we know falling glass causes a lot of injuries.”

According to the study, the explosion released the equivalent of around 1GWh of energy in milliseconds, which is equal to the hourly energy generated by three million solar panels or 400 wind turbines — enough to power 100 homes for a year.


Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

Updated 28 min 51 sec ago

Security forces keep radical protesters away from French Embassy in Beirut

  • Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms
  • Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut

BEIRUT: Lebanese security forces prevented the arrival of hundreds of protesters at the French ambassador’s residence and the French Embassy in Lebanon on Friday.

They feared the recurrence of riots similar to the ones that erupted in front of the Danish Embassy in Ashrafieh, Beirut, in 2006, and led to 28 people being injured, damage to storefronts, and the burning of the consulate building and terrorizing of people.

A few hundred worshippers left mosques after Friday prayers and marched to defend the Prophet Muhammad.

Calls for a demonstration by radical Islamic groups spread on social media platforms.

Khaldoun Qawwas, Dar Al-Fatwa’s media spokesperson, told Arab News: “These groups have nothing to do with Dar Al-Fatwa, which has already announced its position regarding what happened in France in two separate statements.”

Sheikh Abdul Latif Deryan, the grand mufti of Lebanon, in a statement issued a week earlier, said that “freedom of opinion and expression does not entail insulting the beliefs and symbols of others, and this requires a reconsideration of the concept of absolute freedom.”

He stressed the “renunciation of violence and confrontation of radicalism and terrorism that has no religion or race.”

Security forces had anticipated Friday’s protest and tightened security in the heart of Beirut, since the embassy and the French ambassador’s residence are located where roads leading to the city’s western and eastern neighborhoods intersect. This led to a huge traffic jam in the capital.

The protest’s starting point was the Gamal Abdel Nasser Mosque in Al-Mazraa, situated only a few kilometers from the Residence des Pins (Pine Residence).

Three major security checkpoints — one set up by the riot police — separated the Residence des Pins and protesters, some of whom were transported by buses from the north of Lebanon to Beirut.

Protesters held Islamic signs and chanted slogans denouncing France, its President Emmanuel Macron and its former colonization of the country. Some protesters tried to remove barbed wire and threw stones, water bottles and batons at the security forces. Another group burned the French flag. Security forces responded by throwing tear gas canisters, leading to the retreat of the protesters.

In a statement, Lebanon’s Supreme Council of the Roman Catholic condemned “the terrorist attack in the French city of Nice.”

The council considered that “this terrorist crime has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims. It is an individual act carried out by terrorists haunted by radicalism, obscurantism and the rejection of the French people’s historical civilizational values. Through their acts, they abuse the spirit of tolerance, coexistence, acceptance of the other and the freedom of thought and belief which all religions call for.”

The council called for “staying away from defaming religions and beliefs and inciting hate and resentment among people, raising the voice of moderation, wisdom and reason, working together in the spirit of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together announced by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb from the UAE last year.”

During the Friday sermon, Grand Jaafari Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Kabalan condemned “any criminal act against any people, including the French people.” He added: “We categorically reject what happened in Nice yesterday, strongly condemn it and consider it a blatant and insolent attack on Muslims before others.”

He simultaneously condemned “the official French position that affronted the Prophet, took lightly and made light of the feelings of millions of Muslims.”