Photos for Firefighters Trying to Enter Ammonium Nitrate Warehouse Moments Before Blast Released

Published August 7th, 2020 - 05:56 GMT
It comes as a tragic photo emerged showing the final moments of firefighters sent to tackle a blaze at Warehouse 12 in Beirut's port before the stockpile of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored inside exploded with the force of a small nuke. (Twitter)
It comes as a tragic photo emerged showing the final moments of firefighters sent to tackle a blaze at Warehouse 12 in Beirut's port before the stockpile of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored inside exploded with the force of a small nuke. (Twitter)
The photographer is known to have died in the explosion while the fire crew are missing, believed to be dead.

Sixteen employees at the Port of Beirut have been detained as part of the investigation into the cause of the devastating explosion, a military judge has confirmed.

Residents of the Lebanese capital vented their fury at Lebanon's leaders today, demanding justice for the at least 145 people killed in the blast and thousands more who were injured.

Local reports claim that 18 people have been questioned in total, including officials working in customs and at the port, where the explosion took place on Tuesday. 

But while investigators focus on port officials, many Lebanese put the blame squarely on the political elite and the corruption and mismanagement that even before the disaster had pushed the country to the brink of economic collapse. 

It comes as a tragic photo emerged showing the final moments of firefighters sent to tackle a blaze at Warehouse 12 in Beirut's port before the stockpile of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored inside exploded with the force of a small nuke.

The image - verified by MailOnline - shows firefighters trying to pry the lock off a door beneath a sign that reads 'entrance 12', along with signs warning of hazardous chemicals inside. 

The person who took the photo has been confirmed dead with the photo found on his phone, while Beirut's governor has said 10 firefighters are missing after the blast, sparked when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in the warehouse caught fire. 

The image was being widely-circulated on Arab-language twitter accounts on Wednesday as people paid tribute to the firefighters, who are assumed to have perished. 

Jo Noon, Methal Hawwa and Najib Hati were part of a 10-person rapid response team. Nine of them are still missing while one female colleague, 25-year-old Sahar Faris, has been confirmed dead. 

Ms Faris, who has since been dubbed 'the bride of Beirut' on social media, was engaged to be married in June next year. Yesterday, her fiancé, Gilbert Karaan, posted a tribute saying, 'you broke my back, you broke my heart'.

The three firemen were photographed in an iconic picture putting their lives on the line to prevent the catastrophe. One of them, Najib Hati, did not even have time to put on his uniform.

They had been dispatched with another colleague, thought to be Ms Faris, from the fire station in La Quarantaine, northeastern Beirut, in an emergency response vehicle and were first on the scene, fire chiefs said.

The six other firefighters followed in a fire engine. 'As the fire service, we have the authority to open any door without the approval of any ministry or military,' a fire service official, who asked not to be named, said.

'When the smoke first started gathering, we sent a unit of 10 people. Six were in the fire engine and four in the emergency response car. The three men in the famous photograph were first on the scene trying to unlock the door to Warehouse 12.

'Following them were the colleagues in the other vehicles. The blast hit all of them. Nine are still missing and one, Sahar Faris, has been found and declared dead. Her family mourned here yesterday. Her fiancé is devastated.' 

Details from the image - such as the heavy grey sliding doors and white sign with Arabic writing - were also visible in a video taken outside the flaming warehouses as a fire, thought to have been sparked by a welder, took hold.

The video shows firefighters in similar uniforms to those seen in the photo as they assess the scene, seemingly unaware of the danger.

More footage taken from the roof of a building across the street shows identical warehouse buildings being consumed by smoke and flames, along with similar-looking signs on the warehouse doors.

That footage can be verified as genuine because it features a large metal support strut, that can be seen on the roof of a building opposite the warehouse in Google Satellite images. 

Meanwhile a photo taken of the warehouse some time ago shows the same grey sliding doors, high square windows and white sign, though without an writing on it. That photo also purports to show sacks filled with ammonium nitrate that caused the explosion. 

The second video also features other corroborating details seen in multiple pieces of footage from around Beirut, such as small explosions from what appear to be fireworks moments before the main blast takes place.

That video also features the moment the blast happens, obliterating the warehouse, badly damaging grain silos opposite, and sending out a shockwave that flattened nearby buildings and blew out windows across the city.

At least 5,000 people were wounded in the explosion which also left 300,000 homeless and caused damage estimated at up to $5billion, with half of Beirut's buildings affected.

The blast threatens to reignite anti-government protests in Lebanon that have been ongoing since last year amid allegations of entrenched incompetence and corruption. 

Emmanuel Macron offered France's support for the Lebanese people as he visited Beirut on Thursday, but warned the country would 'continue to sink' unless its leaders carry out reforms.  

France has long sought to support its former colony and has sent emergency aid since the blast, but is worried about endemic corruption and has pressed for reforms as a financial crisis deepened in the Middle East country.

After landing in Beirut, Macron said France's solidarity with the Lebanese people was unconditional, but said he wanted to tell some 'home truths' to political figures.

'Beyond the blast, we know the crisis here is serious, it involves the historic responsibility of leaders in place,' Macron told reporters.

'We can't do without telling each other some home truths,' he added. 'If reforms are not carried out, Lebanon will continue to sink.'

Lebanon has placed every official responsible for the security of Beirut's port for the last six years under house arrest as it investigates a massive explosion which has devastated the city. 

The country's political leaders vowed those responsible for the tragedy would 'pay the price', but customs officials pointed the finger of blame back at them - saying they were repeatedly warned of the danger but failed to act.

The dangerous load is understood to have been abandoned by Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin in September 2013 before eventually being transferred to the port where it remained for six years. 

A ship carrying the load was detained en route from Batumi, in the ex-Soviet republic Georgia, to Mozambique, and never recovered. 

On Tuesday evening a fire that started in Warehouse 9 before spreading to Warehouse 12, where the chemicals were being stored, igniting them and causing the blast.

Raghida Dergham of the Beirut Institute yesterday said: 'Storing Ammonium Nitrate in a civilian port is a crime against humanity that must not go unpunished. 

'Condemnations are not enough. I'm safe but devastated. I lost friends. I lost my apartment. Had I been home, I would have lost my life.'

An official source familiar with preliminary investigations blamed the incident on negligence. Lebanese citizens directed anger at politicians who have overseen decades of state corruption and bad governance that plunged the nation into financial crisis.   

Director General of Lebanese Customs Badri Daher said the country's judiciary was told six times about the hazardous chemicals stored in a warehouse in the Lebanese capital. 

Customs officials are understood to have asked authorities to move the dangerous substance from Hangar 12 due to the danger they believe it posed to the city and given to the army or sold to an explosives company.

'We requested that it be re-exported but that did not happen. We leave it to the experts and those concerned to determine why,' Daher said. 

Another source close to a port employee said a team that inspected the ammonium nitrate six months ago warned that if it was not moved it would 'blow up all of Beirut'.  

Prime Minister Hassan Diab vowed those responsible will 'pay the price' as he declared a two-week state of emergency to deal with the crisis, urging all world leaders and 'friends of Lebanon' to donate aid to the country, adding: 'We are witnessing a real catastrophe.' 

Documents published online suggested it could be given to the army or sold to an explosives company, but did not receive any replies, leaving the explosive cargo languishing in the now destroyed port area of the capital.

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical used in fertiliser bombs and is widely used by the construction industry but also by insurgent groups such as the Taliban and the IRA for improvised explosives. 

Authorities have cordoned off the port itself, where the blast left a crater 200 meters (yards) across and shredded a large grain silo, emptying its contents into the rubble. Estimates suggested about 85 per cent of the country's grain was stored there.

Lebanon is highly dependent on imports, and the destruction of the port, along with the worsening cash crisis, have raised fears of shortages.

Two planeloads of French rescue workers and aid were sent to Beirut, and Macron was to arrive Thursday to offer support for the former protectorate. The countries retain close political and economic ties.

Other countries, including Greece, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkey and the European Union, have dispatched medical supplies, humanitarian aid and search-and-rescue teams.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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