Lessons Learned

by Kevin Mueller, P.E., Ph.D., (M.ASCE), Senior project engineer in the Chicago office of Thornton Tomasetti,
Elie Hantouche, Ph.D., (A.M.ASCE), Associate professor of structural engineering at the American University of Beirut,
Nicolas Misselbrook, CEng., Principal in the Dalgety Bay, Scotland, United Kingdom, office of Thornton Tomasetti Defence Ltd.,


Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 2020, Vol. 90, Issue 11, Pg. 48-55

Document Type: Feature article

Abstract: The city of Beirut sits on a peninsula along Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast. The Port of Beirut, opened in 1887, is located directly north of downtown Beirut and mostly separated from the commercial and residential quarters by the Charles Helou highway. The port contains berths for freight vessels, grain silos, and storage hangars. Over the years, thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate ended up being stored in Hangar 12, located directly east of the grain silos. For yet unknown reasons, the same hangar stored fuel, acid, fuse spools, and 15 tons of fireworks. On Aug. 4, 2020, at about 6:07 p.m., a sequence of events started a chain reaction by which a fire in the hangar caused the fireworks and subsequently the ammonium nitrate to detonate, resulting in nearly 200 deaths, more than 6,000 injuries, about 300,000 people losing their homes, and $10 billion to $15 billion in damage throughout the city. Several damaged buildings were assessed in the weeks following the explosion, and in the following article, we compare their actual damage with that predicted by industry standards. Our aim is to further engineers’ understanding of the accuracy of current explosive safety models and analyses. Underlying this effort is one question: What can we learn from the Beirut explosion to better prepare other urban environments for accidents such as this?

Subject Headings: Explosions | Urban areas | Ports and harbors | Crops | Silos | Ammonia | Nitrates | Model accuracy | Lebanon | Middle East | Asia

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