Elias Tarabay remembers Aug. 4, 2020, clearly. He arrived home after having a late lunch with a friend. He was living in Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon. His house had a balcony that looked out at the city’s ports.
Just as he settled in, he heard a loud explosion.
Tarabay was working as an editor for a local newspaper at the time and he thought he would take the video to send back to his office.
Then a second large explosion rocked the Beirut port.
The explosion killed at least 214 people, according to official records. Thousands were injured.
It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history — the result of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate igniting after a fire broke out. The explosion tore through the city with such force that it caused a tremor across the entire country that was heard and felt as far away as the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, more than 200 kilometres away.
It would soon emerge in documents that the highly combustible nitrates had been haphazardly stored at a port warehouse alongside other flammable material since 2014 — and that multiple high-level officials over the years knew of its presence and did nothing.
The event galvanized people to demonstrate in the streets, asking for government accountability and in the days following the explosion, several cabinet members announced their resignation. On Aug. 10, 2020, Beirut’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, announced he would be stepping down from his position.
On this episode of What happened to …? Erica Vella revisits the days that followed the deadly blast and finds out if anyone has been held accountable. She also learns how Lebanon’s economic crisis has made it difficult for the country to rebuild.
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