The Blast Episode 3: the day Beirut exploded

‘Zero Hour’ - The third instalment of a ‘Beyond the Headlines’ special four-part investigation into the Beirut explosion on August 4, 2020

Just after 6pm on August 4, 2020. Zero Hour.

The fire in Beirut Port's Warehouse 12 had grown in intensity. It was out of control.

A fire crew arrived to try to tackle the blaze, but it was like nothing they had ever seen before. They called for backup.

Ghassan Hasrouty and his colleagues were still working in the silos next door, offloading grain from the ship that docked earlier in the day. They’re just metres from Warehouse 12 and the deadly stockpile of ammonium nitrate.

Bystanders living in the neighbourhood around the port came to their windows and on to their balconies to watch the clouds of smoke rise into the pale blue sky.

Many, however, are unaware anything is wrong. Those like Sarah Copland, an Australian UN employee who’s feeding her son Isaac, 2, next to the big glass windows of the family’s dining room in a quiet Beirut neighbourhood less than a kilometre away from the fire.

This is Episode 3 of The Blast. It’s the story of what happened when Beirut blew up, told by the people who were there.

This episode contains witness accounts of the events of August 4, 2020, that some listeners may find distressing. If you are based in Lebanon and want to talk about any of the issues raised in this series you can contact the Embrace Lifeline.

Beirut before and after explosion

Beirut before and after explosion

Finbar, like many others in Beirut that day, was badly injured in the explosion.

Now, a year on, he is looking to get answers to questions that so many in Lebanon have — who was responsible for the Beirut blast, how did the ammonium nitrate end up there, who knew about it and what caused the explosion.

The Blast from Beyond the Headlines traces the events of that tragic day.

In Episode 1, Finbar enlists Erin Clare Brown, The National’s Tunis correspondent and resident Russian speaker. They track down Boris Prokoshev, the captain of the Rhosus — the ship that first brought the cargo of ammonium nitrate to Beirut Port. Boris tells us about the ill-fated voyage from the start, how a detour brought them to Beirut and how it — and he — got stuck there.

In Episode 2, Finbar enlisted his Beirut colleague Sunniva Rose and they headed down to Beirut Port to find out who knew the ammonium nitrate was sitting in hanger 12, who was responsible for it and how it sat there for six years.

Next time on The Blast, we conclude by looking at what’s happened in the year since the explosion, who has been accused, how life has changed and what justice the victims of that explosion are seeking.

Updated: August 05, 2021, 5:13 AM