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How the explosive destruction of Halifax holds lessons — and hope — for Beirut

A bustling port in a time of conflict. Explosive compounds disastrously mismanaged. Curious citizens drawn to a strange conflagration, only to discover in a flash that they were standing at ground zero. Utter devastation, shell shock, homelessness, dead bodies for miles — and a city left to wonder what comes next.

This week, it’s Beirut. But a century ago, it was Halifax. And while Lebanon’s tragedy naturally differs from Canada’s, the 1917 disaster offers lessons for handling today’s cataclysm — and preventing another one.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Halifax became Europe’s supply depot. With London pressing Canada for more men, munitions and ships, Halifax Harbor’s regulations quickly eroded. By 1917, the Halifax commander felt compelled to warn his superiors: “It is not possible to regulate the traffic in the harbor, and it is submitted that I cannot in this regard accept the responsibility for any accident occurring.”

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