Muthanna and Fahed worked the front desk at the Golden Tulip Hotel in midtown Beirut when they heard what sounded like a bomb. They headed toward the hotel’s floor-to-ceiling glass entryway to see what was happening when the true explosion struck.
Nearly 3,000 metric tons of ammonium nitrate ignited in Beirut’s main port downtown at about 6 p.m. on Aug. 4, sending an orange mushroom cloud and a powerful shock wave over the city.
Security camera footage captured what happened at the Golden Tulip, 6 miles from the blast site. The high-pressure shock wave, traveling faster than the speed of sound, sent a rain of exploding glass across the hotel lobby, thrusting Muthanna and Fahed back behind the desk.
Fahed received cuts on his wrist and forehead. Muthanna, a Syrian refugee who came to Lebanon in 2015 after his father was killed in an airstrike, wasn’t injured.
The explosion killed at least 157 people and injured more than 5,000. One week later, 150 people remained missing despite an international search and rescue effort. Damaged structures have left 300,000 people without shelter in a city of just under 2 million. The blast wave destroyed vessels at sea within a 1-mile radius, including cargo vessels and a UN maritime task force docked in port.
Beirut’s explosion, caught on camera and spread widely via social media, captured an apocalyptic moment in what to many feels like an apocalyptic year. For Lebanese, already living through an economic and political crisis, the explosion is more than symbolic of all they’ve already endured. The blast crater—now opened 43 meters deep with buckled warehouse hulks stretched for miles around it—sits at what had been the center of commerce. Yet for months the country has tottered at insolvency, its currency losing 90 percent of its value, its bank reserve drained by wealthy politicians and international launderers, including Hezbollah.
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