Documents show Lebanese security officials warned the prime minister and president in July that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut's port posed a security risk and could destroy the capital if it exploded.

A view of graffiti at the damaged port area in the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon August 11, 2020.
A view of graffiti at the damaged port area in the aftermath of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon August 11, 2020. (Reuters)

Members of a French clean-up team in Beirut say that chemical experts and firefighters are working to secure at least 20 dangerous chemical containers at the explosion-shattered port, after finding one that was leaking.

Some of the containers were punctured when last week’s deadly blast ripped through the port and the Lebanese capital, a French chemical expert said.

The explosion last Tuesday in the port killed at least 165 people and injured about 6,000 others. Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud, on Monday, told BBC more than 200 people died in the August 4th blast. 

Leaking chemicals 

It is believed to have been caused by a fire that ignited a 2,750-tonne stockpile of highly volatile ammonium nitrate. 

The material had been stored at the port since 2013 with few safeguards despite numerous warnings of the danger.

“We noted the presence of containers with the chemical danger symbol. And then noted that one of the containers was leaking,” said Lieutenant Anthony, a French chemical expert at the site who was not authorised to be identified by his full name according to government policy.

READ MORE: Lebanon wakes up to utter devastation after Beirut blast

The experts are working with Lebanese firefighters to secure all of the containers and analyse their contents, he said. “We need to clean everything and put all in security.”

He didn’t identify what chemicals were involved or provide further details. 

Lebanese officials have not commented on the potential chemical risks at the port.

“There are also other flammable liquids in other containers, there are also batteries or other kind of products which could increase the risk of potential explosion,” Anthony said, describing huge containers tossed around the port by the powerful force of the blast.

It is unclear whether there could be additional potentially dangerous containers in other zones of the port. 

The French and Italian experts were assigned to a specific zone to examine and secure that section, Anthony said.

READ MORE: Who is responsible for the Beirut disaster?

Lebanon's leaders warned in July about explosives at port 

Lebanese security officials warned the prime minister and president as recently as last month that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut's port posed a security risk and could destroy the capital if it exploded, according to documents seen by Reuters and senior security sources.

Just over two weeks later, the industrial chemicals exploded in a massive blast.

A report by the General Directorate of State Security about events leading up to the explosion included a reference to a private letter sent to President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab on July 20.

While the content of the letter was not in the report seen by Reuters, a senior security official said it summed up the findings of a judicial investigation launched in January which concluded the chemicals needed to be secured immediately.

The state security report, which confirmed the correspondence to the president and the prime minister, has not previously been reported.

"There was a danger that this material, if stolen, could be used in a terrorist attack," the official told Reuters.

READ MORE: Lebanese president rejects international probe into Beirut blast

Prime Minister Hassan Diab announced the resignation of his government late on Monday, spelling even deeper turmoil ahead.

The resignation risks opening the way to dragged-out negotiations over a new Cabinet amid urgent calls for reform. It follows a weekend of anti-government protests after the explosion.

While some protesters have chanted slogans against Lebanon's powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, most vented their fury against a wider ruling class whose corruption, incompetence and negligence they say caused the August 4 tragedy.

READ MORE: Lebanon PM Diab resigns amid anger over Beirut blast

Source: TRTWorld and agencies