Before-and-after images from space reveal the devastation in Beirut caused by 2,750 tons of exploding fertilizer

Maxar satellites took photos of a port in Beirut, Lebanon before (bottom) and after (top) a store of chemicals exploded.Satellite images ©2020 Maxar Technologies (editing by Business Insider)
  • Beirut, Lebanon's capital, suffered a catastrophic explosion at its port on Tuesday.
  • Authorities believe the blast was caused by the ignition of 2,750 tons of confiscated and abandoned ammonium nitrate fertilizer.
  • Comparisons of satellite images taken before and after the explosion reveal the extent of the damage from above.
  • At least 100 people were killed, and more than 4,000 other people were injured.

In the port of Beirut, a warehouse that once held confiscated fertilizer has been replaced by a water-filled crater.

These and other details came to light in a gut-wrenching satellite image of Lebanon's capital city taken on Wednesday morning by Maxar, a company that operates a fleet of high-resolution Earth-observing satellites. The pictures complement new aerial footage of the scene.

Lebanese officials said the explosion on Tuesday evening at a warehouse in the city's port followed a fire accidentally started by welders who were trying to repair a hole in the building. At least 100 people were killed, and more than 4,000 other people were injured.Advertisement

Despite the appearance of a mushroom cloud and blast wave that shattered countless windows, and contrary to early conspiracy-theorist claims, the disaster was not caused by a nuclear weapon. The heart of the blast, according to Lebanon's Supreme Defense Council, was a cache of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which is typically used as a fertilizer for crops and is very explosive in the right conditions.

Reporting by Business Insider's Mia Jankowicz and other journalists suggested that the stash of chemicals came to Beirut around 2013 via a ship that customs officials seized. The ship's owner apparently abandoned it, and its stores were moved into the warehouse, where they sat for about six years.

Below at right is an image of the Beirut port taken on June 9 by Maxar's WorldView-3 satellite. An image from Wednesday, taken by WorldView-2, is at left. Click and drag the slider tool to compare them.
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The images show that a crater hundreds of feet wide, filled with water from the Mediterranean Sea, now exists where the warehouse once stood.

Nearby buildings have been vaporized or leveled, their frames turned to twisted steel. Numerous shipping containers are scattered about, their contents strewn over the ground. Greenery that used to decorate a roundabout is charred. A zoomed-in comparative view of the same scene, below, better reveals the extent of the devastation.Advertisement

Another set of images reveals other destruction around the port.

At right is a Maxar photo taken on July 31, showing a docked yacht. The left image shows the same ship after the blast.

The yield, or power, of the blast is thought to be the equivalent of somewhere between several hundred and 1,000 tons of TNT. Whatever the exact number, it is several times that of the most powerful non-nuclear ordnance in the US military's arsenal (that would be the MOAB, or "mother of all bombs)" and well within the territory of "tactical" or "low-yield" nuclear weapons.Advertisement

Lebanon's prime minister, Hassan Diab, said the explosion was under investigation and vowed to find whoever was responsible for the tragedy.

"I will not rest until we find the person responsible for what happened," Diab said, according to NBC News.

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