The Daily Parker

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Beirut update

Casualties continue to mount along with accusations of official malfeasance from Tuesday evening's blast at the Port of Beirut:

Lebanon's President, Michel Aoun, blamed the detonation on 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that he said had been stored unsafely at a warehouse in the port.

A similar amount of the chemical arrived on a Moldovan-flagged cargo ship, the MV Rhosus, which docked in Beirut in 2013 after suffering technical problems while sailing from Georgia to Mozambique.

The Rhosus was inspected, banned from leaving and was shortly afterwards abandoned by its owners, according to Its cargo was reportedly transferred to Warehouse 12 following a court order, and should have been disposed of or resold.

The 137 people who were killed included Jean-Marc Bonfils, a Beirut-born French architect. Mr Bonfils, who was involved in restoring buildings damaged in the city during the civil war, was broadcasting video of the incident live on Facebook after the first explosion but was injured in the second and later died. French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot said that France and Lebanon were united in grief at his death.

Mr Koraytem and the director general of Lebanese Customs, Badri Daher, said their warnings about the danger posed by the stored ammonium nitrate and calls for it to be removed were repeatedly ignored.

"We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why," Mr Daher told broadcaster LBCI.

Documents circulated online appeared to show that customs officials sent letters to the judiciary seeking guidance at least six times from 2014 to 2017.

Endemic corruption and lax regulatory enforcement seem to have contributed.

Also, a correction to yesterday's post. It turns out ammonium nitrate has about 40% the explosive power of TNT, so my comparison of the blast to a 3 kT tactical nuclear weapon was off a bit. It was only equivalent to a 1.1 kT tactical nuclear weapon—like the W54 the US Army developed in the 1950s—with about 9% of the yield of the bomb we dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, 75 years ago today. Even with such a small yield, and even though it exploded in a port area rather than in a dense residential or commercial zone, it injured over 5,000 people, killed over 150, and displaced 300,000 from their homes.

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