Beirut explosion among largest non-nuclear blasts in history, experts say
5th October 2020

The explosion that devastated large parts of Beirut and killed more than 190 people was one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history – about 1/20th the size of the atomic bomb that leveled Hiroshima in World Word II, according to a report.

Experts at the UK’s Sheffield University found that the size of the blast at the port — which unleashed a huge shockwave throughout the Lebanese capital — was the equivalent of between 500-1,100 tons of TNT, the BBC reported.

“Beirut’s certainly the most powerful non-nuclear explosion of the 21st century,” said Sam Rigby of Sheffield’s Blast and Impact Engineering Research Group, which hopes its research can help emergency planners prepare for future disasters.

“When we know what the yield is from these sorts of events, we can then work out the loading that comes from that. And that tells us how to construct buildings that are more resilient,” he said, according to the outlet.

“Even things like glazing. In Beirut, glazing damage was reported up 10 kilometers away from the center of the explosion, and we know falling glass causes a lot of injuries.”

The Aug. 4 explosion, which injured more than 6,000 people, was sparked by the accidental detonation of about 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate. The stockpile was stored for years at the port after being confiscated from an impounded Russian cargo ship.

The scientists arrived at their estimate by studying videos of the incident posted on social media.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, they produced an initial estimate in the range of 1.0 to 1.5 kilotons of TNT – but that was based on only a limited number of videos, which the they discovered may have dropped frames.

The team has now had the chance to review 16 videos to produce a broader set of data points from which to make the calculations — resulting in the yield estimate being revised downward a little.

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