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See the aftermath of the devastating Beirut explosion from space

AP Photo/Hussein Malla
A window on the aftermath.
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

The explosion that devastated Beirut yesterday killed more than 100 people, injured thousands, and left the city’s port in ruins, a punishing development for a country dependent on imports.

Satellites operated by Planet, the US remote-sensing firm, captured images of the port of Beirut while in orbit over Lebanon earlier today. When juxtaposed with another Planet image of the port from May, the extent of the damage becomes clear:

The explosion has been attributed to a fire, apparently beginning at a warehouse filled with fireworks, spreading to a cache estimated to contain 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound used in fertilizers and explosives.

The chemicals in question had reportedly been seized six years before from a ship and simply stored near the docks. Lebanon’s prime minister said that investigators will determine if negligence or criminal activity was behind the dangerous storage, but the overarching culprit seems to be rotten institutions.

The terrible event is perhaps most similar to the 1947 Texas City disaster, when a French cargo ship loaded with 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire and exploded in the harbor at Galveston, Texas. It killed more than 500 people and is considered one the worst accidents in US history.

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