30 days ruin in just 30 seconds
“IT took 30 days to do the same destruction we had in one explosion.”
That was film director Philippe Aractingi’s comparison to CNN between the violence in South Lebanon, which he visited, and Tuesday’s massive explosion in Beirut.
Caught on film, the footage of the blast appeared more like a volcanic eruption. Plumes of red cloud were an immediate signal that the explosion was a nitrate, 2700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate in this case.
With a blast radius of at least 9km (and took in Baabda Palace) and the force of the blast felt as far as Cyprus, 240km west of Beirut, this was a man-made eruption but one born of bureaucratic inertia and incompetence. Why was a shipload of dangerous chemicals stored for so long in the face of repeated warnings? Why was nothing done about it?
With at least 300,000 people now homeless and fury swiftly growing, questions are being asked of politicians to stop the rhetoric and deliver results. President Michel Aoun has promised to punish those responsible for allowing this catastrophe to happen but that won’t be enough. He needs to show that it is being done just as he needs to show that the corrupt are being punished.
This new catastrophe in a city traumatised by war amid an ongoing economic crisis and coronavirus pandemic is straining the mental resilience of the Lebanese. Despair, and the breakdown of law and order, is becoming a new threat. A heavy-handed response may be required but it won’t be enough.
There could be another diaspora on the way. Residents picking up the pieces are already talking about moving away.
Lessons from the blast have rippled as far as Australia; Newcastle in NSW is home to 6000-12,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at Orica's Kooragang plant. The plant is within 800m of North Stockton residents and 3km of the Newcastle CBD. Orica says safe storage of the chemical is strictly regulated and audited. Questions are already being asked by Newcastle residents and others, not least of which is why residential development has been allowed to encroach upon such a dangerous industrial facility.
It’s a question that has gained extra, tragic resonance after Tuesday’s explosion.
Editor in Chief