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Beirut Blast Ranks Among History’s Most Powerful Accidental Explosions

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One of 16 videos of the Beirut blast used in the new study.
Gif: Borzou Daragahi/Twitter/Gizmodo

By analyzing videos uploaded to social media, scientists have calculated the strength of the blast that devastated the city of Beirut in August, finding it to be among the biggest non-nuclear explosions in human history.

When a warehouse at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon exploded this past summer, it released the equivalent of 500 tons of TNT and possibly as much as 1.12 kilotons of TNT, according to new research published in the scientific journal Shock Waves. That’s somewhere between 3% and 7% of the yield produced by the atomic bomb detonated at Hiroshima, which packed a blast yield equal to 15 kilotons of TNT. Accordingly, the explosion in Beirut now ranks among the 10 biggest accidental non-nuclear explosions of all time.

Around 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port exploded on August 4, 2020, resulting in 200 deaths and over 6,000 injuries. The resulting shockwave damaged buildings and homes across a wide swath, leaving nearly 300,000 people homeless.

To calculate the explosive yield, a team led by Sam Rigby from the Blast and Impact Engineering Research Group at the University of Sheffield tracked the speed of the blast as it tore through the city. They did so by analyzing over a dozen videos uploaded to social media, all of which captured a reasonably clear view of the blast and visible landmarks.

A preliminary study from the same team estimated the blast yield at somewhere between 1.0 and 1.5 kilotons TNT, but that was based on a limited set of videos. The new study is more comprehensive, as it includes 16 high-quality videos that met the team’s criteria, namely a direct line-of-sight view of