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.


Hundreds of Syrians exit Lebanese town over tensions: UN

Updated 27 November 2020

Hundreds of Syrians exit Lebanese town over tensions: UN

  • UNHCR spokesperson: ‘Collective punishment... for a whole community for an incident involving one individual is unacceptable’
  • Those who fled, said they were chased out of Bsharre, a Christian-majority town, after a Syrian was accused of shooting dead a Lebanese resident

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: At least 270 Syrian families have left a north Lebanon town, as hostility toward them mounted over a murder allegedly committed by a Syrian national, the UN refugee agency said Friday.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees condemned “collective reprisals against Syrians in the town,” of Bsharre, saying many of the families fled in fear without taking their belongings.
“Collective punishment... for a whole community for an incident involving one individual is unacceptable,” a UNHCR spokesperson said in a statement.
Many of those who fled the Christian-majority town said they were chased out by Bsharre residents after a Syrian on Monday was accused of shooting dead a Lebanese resident, sparking widespread tension and hostility.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency reported forced evictions of Syrians in the wake of the murder, but Bsharre’s mayor denied that the Syrians had left out of fear.
An AFP correspondent in Tripoli saw dozens of Syrian families gathering outside a UNHCR building in the northern city.
A group of young men in Bsharre “assaulted us, threatened us and started a fire” in the house, Umm Khaled, a 31-year-old Syrian mother of five told AFP.
“We picked up our children and ran away to Tripoli,” located more than 40 kilometers (25 miles) east, she said.
Yassin Hassan, a 30-year-old Syrian who had lived in Bsharre for years, said he was beaten by a group of men.
“We ran away... without taking anything from our homes,” he told AFP.
Tripoli is among the most welcoming destinations in Lebanon for refugees.
Lebanon, which is grappling with an economic crisis, says it hosts some 1.5 million Syrians, including around one million registered as refugees with the United Nations.
UNHCR said it received “a large number of refugees from Bsharre” in its Tripoli reception center.
They were encouraged to find alternative housing but those with nowhere to stay were moved to shelters, a spokesperson told AFP.
The reasons behind the murder that fueled anti-Syrian sentiments in Bsharre remains shrouded in mystery.
The Syrian suspect in question has handed himself over to authorities, the army said.
A judicial source said investigations were still underway.
The mayor of Bsharre says the town is home to nearly a thousand Syrians.
Authorities have called on refugees to return to Syria even though rights groups warn that the war-torn country is not yet safe.