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Negligence suspected as cause of massive Beirut blast

Investigators began searching through the wreckage of Beirut’s port for clues to the cause of the massive explosion that ripped across the Lebanese capital, and the government ordered port officials put under house arrest amid speculation that negligence was to blame.

The investigation is focusing on how 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers, came to be stored at the facility for six years, and why nothing was done about it.

Fueling speculation that negligence was to blame for the accident, an official letter circulating online shows the head of the customs department had warned repeatedly over the years that the huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored in a hangar in the port was a danger, and asked judicial officials for a ruling on a way to remove it.

Ammonium nitrate is a component of fertilizer that is potentially explosive. The 2,750-ton cargo had been stored at the port since it was confiscated from a ship in 2013, and on Tuesday it is believed to have detonated after a fire broke out nearby.

The 2017 letter from the custom’s chief to a judge could not be immediately confirmed, but state prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat ordered security agencies to start an immediate investigation into all letters related to the materials stored at the port as well as lists of people in charge of maintenance, storage and protection of the hangar.

In the letter, the customs chief warns of the “dangers if the materials remain where they are, affecting the safety of (port) employees” and asked the judge for guidance on what to do with it. He said five similar letters were sent in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The letter proposes the material be exported or sold to a Lebanese explosives company. It is not known if there was ever a response.

Header: A general view shows the damaged grain silos of Beirut’s harbour and its surroundings on August 5, 2020, one day after a powerful twin explosion tore through Lebanon’s capital, resulting from the ignition of a huge depot of ammonium nitrate at the city’s main port. – Rescuers searched for survivors in Beirut after a cataclysmic explosion at the port sowed devastation across entire neighbourhoods, killing more than 100 people, wounding thousands and plunging Lebanon deeper into crisis. The blast, which appeared to have been caused by a fire igniting 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate left unsecured in a warehouse, was felt as far away as Cyprus, some 150 miles (240 kilometres) to the northwest. (Photo by STR / AFP)

Source: AP