Beirut explosion rocks Lebanon's capital city

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12:31 p.m. ET, August 5, 2020

Nurse hailed as hero after pulling three newborns out of a hospital hit by Beirut blast

From CNN's Amy Woodyatt, Ghazal Salah, Dareen Al Omari, Mehsen Mekhtfe and Caroline Faraj

A nurse in Beirut takes care of three babies in a damaged hospital on August 4.
A nurse in Beirut takes care of three babies in a damaged hospital on August 4. Bilal Jawich/Xinhua/Getty Images

A nurse pulled three babies out of a hospital rocked by the massive explosion in Beirut on Tuesday, a photographer who took her picture told CNN Arabic.

Photojournalist Bilal Jawich said he was at home on the outskirts of Beirut when the blast, which has left at least 100 dead and thousands injured, rocked the Lebanese capital.

"I followed the smoke until I reached the port of Beirut," he said, explaining that "professional intuition" took him to Al Roum hospital, in the Ashrafieh district. The area has been left devastated by the blast.

What he saw was remarkable. "I was amazed when I saw the nurse holding three newborns," Jawich told CNN Arabic. "I noticed the nurse's calm, which contrasted with the surrounding atmosphere just one meter away." Several dead and injured people lay nearby, he said.

"However, the nurse looked like she possessed a hidden force that gave her self-control and the ability to save those children," Jawich said. "People stand out amidst these violent and dark and evil circumstances and this nurse was up to the task."

Jawich said the nurse told him later that evening that she was in the maternity ward when the blast hit. She said she had been knocked unconscious, and when she came around “found herself carrying these three children,” he told CNN Arabic.

Not everyone in the hospital was so lucky. George Saad, emergency preparedness and disaster manager for the hospital told CNN that some 12 patients, two visitors and four nurses died in yesterday's incident, while two remain in critical condition. Some 80% of the hospital had been damaged, along with 50% of its equipment, he said.


11:21 a.m. ET, August 5, 2020

A drone captured the widespread destruction in Beirut

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Drone footage captured by CNN this morning showed the destruction left in the wake of Tuesday’s deadly explosion in Beirut.

At least 100 people were killed in the blast, and the death toll could rise as many more people are reported missing. At least 4,000 people were injured in the explosion.

Watch the footage:

12:00 p.m. ET, August 5, 2020

You might hear about ammonium nitrate today. Here's you need to know.

From CNN's Jessie Yeung

A helicopter fights a fire at the scene of an explosion on August 4.
A helicopter fights a fire at the scene of an explosion on August 4. STR/AFP/Getty Images

We're still not exactly sure what caused the deadly explosion in Beirut yesterday, but Lebanon's prime minister said an investigation would focus on an estimated 2,750 metric tons of the explosive ammonium nitrate stored at a warehouse.

So what is ammonium nitrate? Also known as AN, it's a compound of ammonia and nitrogen, is a highly volatile material used in agricultural fertilizers and bombs.

Disasters involving AN are rare, considering the US uses millions of tons of it every year in fertilizers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. "Pure" solid AN is quite stable, but if the compound is mixed with any contaminants, even in small traces, the mixture becomes much more prone to detonation  — which is why there are normally stringent government guidelines for how to treat and store it properly.

"In general, the conditions of AN storage are crucial to the safety and stability of the AN. Materials co-located or stored with AN may play a role in its sensitivity to explosion," the EPA said in a 2015 guide.

For instance, AN shouldn't be stored with any fuel, organic materials, chlorides or metals, said the guide — all potential contaminants. The EPA guidelines also recommend fire resistant walls in the storage unit, noncombustible flooring, and — crucially — controlled temperatures.

AN doesn't burn, but if exposed to heat, it can melt — which releases combustible toxic gases that can cause an explosion. It's even more dangerous if there is a large supply of AN all stored together, because once a small section of AN begins to melt and explode, the resulting heat can set off the rest of the supply.

Some history: One of the worst disasters in US history involving a form of ammonia occurred in April 1947 when a ship loaded with ammonium nitrate caught fire while docked in Texas City. The fire caused an explosion and additional fires that damaged more than 1,000 buildings and killed nearly 400 people, according to the website of the Texas Historical Association.

For perspective, that explosion was triggered by 2,300 US tons (about 2087 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate, according to US Homeland Security.

And the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, a US domestic terror attack that killed 169 people and injured 467, used only two US tons (1.8 metric tons) of ammonium nitrate.

11:06 a.m. ET, August 5, 2020

Here's a satellite view of the scene, before and after the deadly blast

From CNN's Paul P. Murphy

August 5.
August 5. Planet Labs, Inc.

This satellite image from Planet Labs, Inc, showed the destruction left in the wake of yesterday's deadly explosion in Beirut.

At least 100 people were killed in the blast, and the death toll could rise as many more people are reported missing. At least 4,000 people were injured in the explosion.

For comparison, here's what the port area looked like before the blast:

May 31.
May 31. Planet Labs, Inc.

10:39 a.m. ET, August 5, 2020

Beirut port officials to be placed under house arrest, minister says

From CNN’s Mostafa Salem

The Lebanese cabinet has ordered that “officials” involved in the Beirut port explosion be placed under house arrest “in the coming days,” the Lebanese Minister of Displaced People Ghada Shreim said without providing further details.

"There are officials who will stay in their homes in the coming days, pending the conclusion of the investigation and the results are issued. The house arrest will include those who took part in the storage, guarding and investigating of Hangar 12 from 2014 until today," Shreim told reporters at the end of today's cabinet meeting.


10:22 a.m. ET, August 5, 2020

Every business in Beirut is impacted by the blast, economic official says

From CNN's Schams Elwazer

An injured person sits by a restaurant on August 5.
An injured person sits by a restaurant on August 5. Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images

Every single business in Beirut has been affected by yesterday's deadly blast, Lebanon's Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said.

“There is not one apartment in Beirut that wasn’t impacted, not one businesses that wasn’t impacted – whether the storefront of the goods” he said. 

”The impact on the economy is massive and the port has been practically erased,” Nehme told CNBC Arabia in an interview Wednesday, adding it was too soon to fully gauge the scale of the damage on the economy. 

“No one can know the numbers right now. One billion [dollars], two billion, three, five, ten – we can’t know. It’s too soon. But it’s very high and more than our capacity,” he added. 

He said the government’s priority was to secure people’s basic necessities – mainly food but also supplies to help repair the extensive damage to homes and infrastructure across the city. 

9:58 a.m. ET, August 5, 2020

Turkey sends rescue and health care teams to Beirut

From CNN's Gul Tuysuz

Turkey is sending search and rescue teams, health care workers, medical supplies and other urgent humanitarian aid to help in the aftermath of the blast in Beirut, according to the Turkish foreign ministry.

Turkey is also planning on setting up a field hospital, the ministry said in a written statement. 

“We will continue to provide any and all help in solidarity and cooperation with our friendly and brotherly country Lebanon during these times of hardship which we hope they will overcome quickly,” the statement said.  
9:42 a.m. ET, August 5, 2020

Qatar sends medical supplies to Lebanon for explosion victims

From CNN's Jomana Karadsheh

Qatar sent a plane filled with medical supplies to Lebanon to help victims of the Beirut explosion, according to a tweet from the Qatari government.

The first plane arrived today, and the government will send three more carrying equipment for hospitals.

"Following directives by HH the Amir and in support of the Lebanese people, #Qatar has sent its first plane with medical supplies to help treat those injured by yesterday's explosion. This will be followed by 3 more aircraft, carrying equipment for two complete field hospitals," the government tweet read.
9:49 a.m. ET, August 5, 2020

Lebanon’s health sector is suffering from two crises, Covid-19 and explosion aftermath, health minister says

From CNN’s Mohammed Tawfeeq 

A person stands by damaged buildings and vehicles on August 5.
A person stands by damaged buildings and vehicles on August 5. Wael Hamzeh/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Lebanon's Health Minister Hamad Hassan said Tuesday’s explosion that killed at least 100 people and wounded 4,000 added to the country's health care system crisis as it has been already struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We in the health sector are suffering from a crisis in the face of the coronavirus, to which this human and health catastrophe has now been added," Hassan said according to Lebanon’s state-run NNA news.

"It requires everyone to engage positively from politicians, political parties, authorities, and from all friendly and brotherly countries because we suffer from a shortage in the number of beds and a lack of equipment to help injured people and those are in critical conditions," Hassan added.