What we know — and don’t know — about the Beirut explosion

Click to play video: 'Deadly explosion rips through downtown Beirut'
Deadly explosion rips through downtown Beirut
WATCH: Deadly explosion rips through downtown Beirut – Aug 4, 2020

A pair of explosions decimated a huge section of the Lebanese capital of Beirut on Tuesday evening, leaving at least 100 dead and thousands more wounded.

The city — on the verge of a political and economic collapse — is now under a two-week state of emergency.

As authorities scramble to treat the injured and search for survivors, an investigation into the cause of the blast has only just begun.

Here’s what we know so far.

What happened?

It’s believed two concurrent explosions took place near Beirut’s port and central district.

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The first took place at around 6:07 p.m. local time. Video of the first explosion shows a thick, grey plume of smoke rising in the air. Mere seconds later, a second blast occurs, sending a reddish plume billowing high above the city’s port.

Click to play video: 'Massive explosion shakes Lebanon’s capital, Beirut'
Massive explosion shakes Lebanon’s capital, Beirut

It created a shock wave that tore through the city, the damage left in its wake stretching kilometres away.

Images and video from the immediate aftermath show crumbled buildings, shattered windows, and overturned cars, with much of the ruins coated in debris and dust. Several fires burned across the port waterfront once the initial plumes faded.

Damage at the site of Tuesday’s blast in Beirut’s port area, Aug. 5, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Smoke rises from the site of an explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Before and after photos of the port show just how wide the damage stretches. Buildings appear levelled even kilometres away, with the skyline completely changed.

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A combination of satellite images shows the port of Beirut on June 9, 2020, and on Aug. 5, 2020, after an explosion. 2020 Maxar Technologies/via REUTERS

The impact of the second explosion was even felt in Cyprus, which is around 240 kilometres away from the blast location. It registered around a 3.3 magnitude earthquake, according to multiple reports.

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What caused the explosions?

It’s still unclear what exactly caused either explosion.

At this point, authorities believe the first blast may have come from a fireworks warehouse located at the port. The second, however, is suspected of being a warehouse storing thousands of tons of unsecured, high-explosive material — a nearly 2,750-ton stockpile of ammonium nitrate.

Click to play video: 'Video captures devastation in aftermath of massive explosion in Beirut'
Video captures devastation in aftermath of massive explosion in Beirut

Though an investigation is underway, an official source told Reuters that preliminary findings suggest “negligence” and years of inaction over the stockpile is to blame. The source said it had come under scrutiny in the past and that “nothing was done” to remove or dispose of it.

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Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the material had been stored in the depot for six years. The head of the Customs Authority, Badri Daher, told Lebanon’s LBC channel that he had repeatedly warned the country’s judiciary about the substances, as reported by CNN.

Whether the blasts were accidentally or intentionally triggered remains part of the investigation.

How bad is the damage?

The full extent of the damage has yet to be determined.

However, Beirut’s governor, Marwan Abboud, said it could be upwards of $5 billion.

In an interview with Jordan’s state-owned channel Al Mamlaka, Abboud said at least 300,000 people had been displaced from their homes by the explosion and that many buildings will be “unliveable for the foreseeable future.”

A member of security forces stands guard on Aug. 5, 2020 in front of a damaged building near the site of the Aug. 4 blast in Beirut’s port. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
A woman stands on Aug. 5, 2020, inside her damaged home following the Aug. 4 blast in Beirut’s port. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

The death toll stood just above 100 people as of the afternoon of Aug. 5. Officials estimate at least 4,000 more were wounded, though both numbers are expected to rise.

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The blast mangled Beirut’s industrial waterfront and stretched to densely populated neighbourhoods and popular tourist and shopping districts.

It also touched the capital’s hospitals. At least four hospitals were too damaged to admit new patients, the New York Times reported. Multiple other reports said huge swaths of the city’s medical facilities had been destroyed or damaged.

The explosion also threatened the country’s vaccine and medical supply, according to The Times, as a warehouse housing the products might have also been damaged. Healthcare workers were also among those killed.

The Lebanese Red Cross has called for assistance, describing the disaster as “unprecedented and very large.” The agency is setting up temporary shelters with food, hygiene kits and other basic needs to house up to 1,000 families for 72 hours.

Click to play video: 'Beirut explosion: Massive blast devastates city’s port area'
Beirut explosion: Massive blast devastates city’s port area

Countries around the world have offered aid to Lebanon. France was one of the first to respond, sending two military planes with personnel and equipment to the region.

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Teams from the World Health Organization (WHO) are also on the ground. The WHO has also already begun dispatching trauma and surgical kits to the overwhelmed hospitals.

What’s next?

An investigation is currently underway.

Lebanon’s prime minister said the investigation would focus on the explosive ammonium nitrate stored at the warehouse.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun promised a transparent investigation into the cause of the explosion. He vowed that anyone found responsible would be held accountable and punished.

All port officials have been placed under house arrest pending the results of the investigation.

To ensure the investigation is “free from any potential domestic political interference,” Amnesty International is calling for an independent investigation.

There’s also the race to search for and treat survivors.

Members of Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) on Aug. 5, 2020, help a local rescue team at the site of the Aug. 4, 2020, blast in Beirut’s port. Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH)/Handout via Reuters

Security forces have sealed off a wide area around the blast site to look for bodies and survivors under the rubble. Boats have also been deployed to the nearby waters to search.

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An Instagram page called “Locating Victims Beirut” has also sprung up since Tuesday night, showing photos of missing people. Other social media accounts were created to help connect the newly displaced with hotels and homeowners who were willing to host them.

Canada is one of many countries whose citizens fell victim.

Nazar Najarian of Montreal was killed in the explosions, according to city councillor and friend Aref Salem. Salem said Najarian left Canada to pursue a life of politics and served as the secretary-general of Lebanon’s Kataeb party.

While still early, at least one Canadian has requested consular services in Beirut, according to Global Affairs Canada.

The Canadian military also confirmed Wednesday that one of its members was injured in the deadly explosions.

— with files from Reuters, the Associated Press and Global News’ Annabell Olivier

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