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Beirut explosion: what caused the blast and how can you help?

What happened in Beirut?

On Tuesday 4 August, just after 6 p.m. an explosion occurred after a fire started at the city’s port. Eyewitness Hadi Nasrallah told the BBC that he saw the fire but did not expect the blast. “I lost my hearing for a few seconds, I knew something was wrong, and then suddenly the glass just shattered all over the car, the cars around us, the shops, the stores, the buildings. Just glass going down from all over the building.”

BBC Arabic reporter Maryem Taoumi was conducting a video interview in Beirut with a member of the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy at the time of the explosion.

The blast was felt 240km (150 miles) away on the island of Cyprus, with people there saying they thought it was an earthquake. In the aftermath of the blast, chaos fell on the city as ambulances inched their way through heavy traffic to get to the site.

Local media showed people trapped beneath rubble and videos showed wrecked buildings and cars. Hospitals were quickly overwhelmed. The explosion killed at least 100 people and injured more than 4,000. The head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, George Kettani, described it as a “huge catastrophe,” adding: “There are victims and casualties everywhere.”

A search and rescue operation is still under way to locate the more than 100 people missing.

What triggered the explosion in Beirut?

While an investigation is under way to find the exact trigger which caused the ammonium nitrate to explode, we know that it had reportedly been stored in a warehouse after it was unloaded from a ship impounded at the port in 2013. Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said that the 2,750 tonnes of explosive material had been stored unsafely.

Ammonium nitrate is a common industrial chemical used mainly as fertiliser in agriculture as well as one of the main components in explosives used in mining. While it is not an explosive on its own, it can ignite if it isn’t stored properly. The site where it is stored has to be fire-proofed, not have any drains, pipes or other channels in which ammonium nitrate could build up. When it explodes, it can release toxic gases including nitrogen oxides and ammonia gas.

Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council said those found responsible for the explosion would face the “maximum punishment” possible.

What was happening in Lebanon before the blast?

The explosion comes at a sensitive time for Lebanon. With COVID-19 infections on the rise, hospitals were already overwhelmed. Now, they are faced with treating thousands of injured people on top, which only means they will struggle to cope.

The country is also going through an economic crisis. Because Lebanon imports most of its food and stores it in the port, which was mostly destroyed by the explosion, people fear widespread food insecurity to come.

Many buildings and homes were reduced to an uninhabitable mess of glass and debris, leaving residents homeless. President Aoun announced that the government would release 100 billion lira (approximately £50.5 million) of emergency funds. Even with this help, the impact of the blast on the economy is expected to be long-lasting.

The explosion also happened close to the scene of the car bombing that killed Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. A verdict is due on Friday in the trial of four men accused of orchestrating the attack on Mr Hariri at a special United Nations court in the Netherlands.

Even before the blast, tensions were high in Lebanon, with street demonstrations against the government’s handling of the worst economic crisis since the civil war on the one hand, and tension on the border with Israel on the other hand. A senior Israeli official told the BBC that “Israel has no connection” to the explosion in Beirut.

How can you help?

If you’re looking to help those affected by the explosion, start by donating to the Lebanese Red Cross and the UK-based non-profit Impact Lebanon’s disaster relief fund.

You can also donate to local and international organisations such as food banks and medical charities on the Lebanon Crisis website.

New bodycam footage of the George Floyd arrest has been leaked

Traumatising footage as well as transcripts of the critical moments before George Floyd’s fatal arrest have just been leaked to the MailOnline.. The 46-year-old African American father is seen repeatedly apologising to officers and saying “I didn’t do nothing” before US police officer Derek Chauvin aggressively restrained him by the neck for almost nine minutes against the ground, as Floyd gasped for air barely managing to say “I cant breathe.” What the new bodycam footage shows is what led to this horrific moment from the officer’s point of view.

Since the first video emerged, society’s attitude towards racism has been blown into outrage. In turn, the event sparked the world wide Black Lives Matter protests. Until recently, footage of Floyd’s last moments were only available from the bystanders’ perspectives but these newly leaked recordings were captured by the body cameras of former Minneapolis police officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, who have since then been fired and charged for their involvement in Floyd’s death.

Floyd tells the officers that he’s “not a bad guy” and that he has just recovered from COVID-19. As he struggles to make both his hands visible quickly enough, Lane pulls his gun on Floyd to which he admits to being shot before. The New York Times describes Floyd as “visibly shaken, with his head down, and crying, as if he were in the throes of a panic attack.”

The harrowing video shows Lane tap on the window of Floyd’s car, saying “Let’s see your hands,” as Floyd begins to open his car door. Floyd immediately starts to repeat “I’m sorry” and cry “please Mr officer” and beg “I didn’t do nothing” and “I just lost my mum.”

A woman is asked by the officers why Floyd was “acting squirrely” and she replies fearfully that he had been shot before. A second passenger tells the officer that Floyd is a “good guy.”

All four officers involved have argued that Floyd was resisting, which according to the footage appears to be because of how afraid and claustrophobic Floyd was as he tells the officers over and over “I can’t breathe,” “I don’t want to go in there,” “Please man. Don’t leave me by myself man, please. I’m just claustrophobic.”

Kueng shouts in response for him to “Stand up. Stop falling down,” as Floyd falls to the ground. The New York Times reports that “Throughout the video, he never appeared to present a physical threat to the officers, and even after he was handcuffed and searched for weapons, the officers seemed to be more concerned with controlling his body than saving his life.”

After Floyd gets into the back seat of the car and escapes out the other side door, the officers wrestle him to the ground. When Floyd says he cannot breathe, it has been reported that Chauvin responds with “takes a heck of a lot of oxygen to say that.”

The bystanders’ concern grows rapidly as Floyd’s body begins to fall limp. Kueng then looks for a pulse, to find none. The officers and EMT services attempt chest compressions for several minutes instead of taking him to the hospital with the ambulance that was parked blocks away from the scene, even though the audio now reveals that they all knew Floyd was in full cardiac arrest.

This new footage brings vital evidence to Floyd’s case, as the officers involved face charges for the killing. Evidence does not bring Floyd back, but it shows that his neck was under the weight of not just the Minneapolis Police Department, but the weight of corruption and the lack of education through the entire world.