Making Sense of Devastation in Beirut #79

Deepnews Digest #79

Making Sense of Devastation in Beirut

Editor: Christopher Brennan
The explosion of what is believed to have been thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate at the Port of Beirut sent shocks, physical and emotional, through the city and those around the world looking on in horror. The blast, which has killed at least 157 people as of Friday, and its aftermath are the subject of this week’s Digest, with on-the-ground reporting and articles exploring questions of safety for hazardous materials, the precarious economic situation in Lebanon and how the city rebuilds. All gathered with the Deepnews Scoring Model.
Editor’s note
We are always looking for your input on what the Digest should cover, so we can better use the Deepnews technology. If you have an idea please send it to us here.. We also are responsive on social media so feel free to reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.
Published every Friday

The Conversation

Beirut explosion: the disaster was exceptional but events leading up to it were not – researchers

While the disaster itself was exceptional, the events leading up to it were not. Hazardous material is shipped across the world’s oceans on a daily basis. It is often mishandled or illegally traded. Abandoned containers of hazardous goods are found regularly in ports.

Read more

ABC Australia

I have reported from Lebanon for years. What I saw at the Beirut port after the blast was total devastation

I’ll never forget the sight of a white cloud forming like a mushroom in the sky before turning a deep red colour. Like a nuclear bomb explosion.

Read more

The Journal (Ireland)

Explainer: How Beirut explosions came at the worst time possible for a country in a ‘dire situation’

MORE THAN 100 people were killed and about 4,000 others injured in the explosions that rocked Beirut yesterday.

Read more

Editor’s Note:

The port explosion took place during a time not just when the entire world is confronting coronavirus, but when Lebanon itself has been experiencing economic and political instability. Here Órla Ryan digs into the situation after reporting in the country this spring. – Christopher Brennan, Editor

New York Times

As Smoke Clears in Beirut, Shock Turns to Anger

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Since an orphaned shipment of highly explosive chemicals arrived at the port of Beirut in 2013, Lebanese officials treated it the way they have dealt with the country’s lack of electricity, poisonous tap water and overflowing garbage: by bickering and hoping the problem might solve itself.

Read more

FT ($)

Lebanon pleads for aid as Beirut reels from explosion

Lebanon’s economy minister has issued a plea for international assistance, saying his cash-strapped country did not have the financial capability to “face the repercussions” of the Beirut port explosion which is thought to have caused billions of dollars worth of damage.

Read more

The Globe and Mail ($)

Opinion: In Beirut, a nightmare comes to life

For 30 years Lebanon’s kleptocratic leaders have deprived its population of electricity, water and even a minimal social welfare net.

Read more

Houston Chronicle

Essay: Beirut’s devastation shook me from across the world

The tremendous explosion in Beirut on Tuesday caught our attention, pulled at our heartstrings, and then, in the words of Robert Frost, not being the ones who died, most of us turned back to our affairs.

Read more

The Economist ($)

A big blast should lead to big change in Lebanon

So powerful was the explosion that rocked Beirut on August 4th that people in Cyprus, 240km (150 miles) away, thought they had suffered an earthquake. Scores of people died and thousands were injured in the blast, which left the port in ruins. The Lebanese government says it was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which can be used as fertiliser or as an explosive (see article). This appears to have been confiscated years ago from an abandoned Russian-owned cargo ship heading to Mozambique. Customs officials proposed exporting the stuff, giving it to the army or selling it to an explosives company — but they needed the judiciary’s approval. Their repeated requests were met with silence. So the material sat in a warehouse at the port.

Read more

Coda Story

Ammonium nitrate that devastated Beirut was manufactured in Georgia

Conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns are poised to focus on targets outside of Lebanon

Read more

Editor’s Note:

Ammonium nitrate has come into the spotlight after the blast, with reporters tracing exactly how such a large batch found its way to the port. Here Coda Story looks at its origin, as well as issues of disinformation. – Christopher Brennan, Editor

The Conversation

Beirut explosion yet another heartbreak for a country already on the brink

Lebanon did not need one of the world’s most horrific accidental detonations to remind people it is a state teetering on the edge of collapse.

Read more

Al Arabiya

Lebanese criticize Berri’s ‘Beirut will rise like a phoenix’ comments after blasts

Several Lebanese citizens have taken to social media to voice their anger toward Lebanese politician Nabih Berri following his statement that “Beirut will rise like a phoenix” after the devastating blasts that rocked the Lebanese capital.

Read more

Daily Star Lebanon

Lebanese swoop into Beirut to help those in need

BEIRUT: When the explosion at Beirut’s Port occurred Tuesday evening, Evana Matar’s first thoughts were for her family who lived near the blast. She raced from Jounieh to the neighborhood of Karantina and evacuated her aunt from her shattered flat.

Read more


Beirut blast a ‘knockout punch’ after succession of crippling blows to Lebanon

War, negligence, impunity are all part of Lebanon’s recent history

Read more


What Just Blew Up In Beirut?

Shortly before 6 PM Beirut time reports began flooding Twitter of a fire and a series of explosions in Beirut. It rapidly became evident that event was far more than a small industrial fire.

Read more

Editor’s Note:

The way that many people learned of the explosion was on social media and images sent around the world. Here open-source investigations outfit Bellingcat, reporting on Tuesday, looks into the videos. – Christopher Brennan, Editor

Times of Israel

Rebuffed by Lebanon, Israelis seek workarounds to get help to Beirut

With direct assistance seemingly off table, doctors at Sheba draw up plan to treat victims in third country and aid group collects items to send from North America and Australia

Read more

The New Humanitarian

What the Beirut blast could mean for a battered Lebanon

As rescue workers continue to look for survivors amongst the rubble of a massive explosion that killed a reported 100 people in Beirut’s port on Tuesday night, the humanitarian implications of the blast in Lebanon’s capital will likely not be clear for some time.

Read more

Atlantic Council

Scenes from a broken Beirut

The blast was a brief, sharp, concussive thunderclap that made me flinch as I drove along a mountain road near the village of Mrouj some fourteen miles east of Beirut. My wife initially thought some local children had set off a large firework beside our car, possibly in celebration of the day of the annual festival for the Virgin Mary. But a few minutes later, having noticed worried looking residents of this Christian village stepping outside and gazing around, it appeared something more serious had happened.

Read more

Washington Post

‘I have no idea how I’m not dead’: A Post correspondent recalls doomful night in Beirut

Sarah Dadouch, a Beirut-based correspondent for The Washington Post, shared her experience of Tuesday’s explosions with The Post’s Siobhán O’Grady. The account was condensed and edited for clarity.

Read more

Editor’s Note:

With the explosion damaging an entire part of the city, reporters themselves have been impacted, which is the subject of a couple of the articles on this Digest. Here Sarah Dadouch recounts being in her apartment as things were torn asunder. – Christopher Brennan, Editor

The Guardian

‘Floating bomb’: how the Beirut blast was predicted

Anger and dismay was building in Beirut today as officials admitted that a massive port explosion that killed at least 135 people, injured thousands and left many more homeless was foreseeable and had been the subject of repeated warnings.

Read more


Over 2,000 died in 49 accidental blasts over past 20 years

As world mourns 137 deaths in Beirut, such incidents occur frequently, raising questions on safety of ammunition dumps

Read more


In Beirut, Macron says Lebanese leaders need to hear ‘home truths’

French President Emmanuel Macron, making the first visit by a foreign leader since Tuesday’s blast which killed at least 145 people and injured 5,000, arrived in Beirut on Thursday along with specialist rescue personnel and equipment.

Read more


Opinion | Learning from the Beirut disaster

The circumstances of the blast in the Beirut port that led to extensive injury, loss of life and huge property damage, are still not known. But one thing is clear, and that is that large amounts of hazardous and explosive materials were stored in a port near a major city. That is a reality in many countries, including Israel. The tragic disaster in Beirut is a reminder of the need for cautious, wise policy in the use of hazardous materials that are still essential in many industries.

Read more

International Committee of the Red Cross

Opinion: We’ve waited long enough – we must wipe out nuclear weapons for good

The events of the past few days have nonetheless reminded us that this ferocious mushroom-cloud blast of energy is an image that is embedded in the minds of every modern human – a terrible reminder of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear explosions in 1945.

Read more

The New Yorker

After Twin Blasts, an “Apocalypse” in Lebanon

For decades, Lebanon has defied the odds. During an interview on his old Comedy Central show, Stephen Colbert asked me which of the dozen wars that I’ve covered was my favorite. No question: Lebanon and its strife, for my wonderment of that country’s creative, resilient people and its physical beauty as well as the epic political stakes for the country, the region, and the world.

Read more


Hezbollah Will Not Escape Blame for Beirut

When anger replaces sorrow, much of it will be directed at the Iran-backed militia.

Read more