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Brussels opens condolence book for Beirut explosion

17:30 05/08/2020

Brussels-City has opened a memorial book in recognition of the disastrous chemical explosion that shook the city of Beirut yesterday and has taken at least 100 lives. People can write their thoughts and condolences in the book until next week.

The book is located in the entryway of city hall in Grand Place. At the end of next week it will be delivered to the Lebanese ambassador to Belgium.

A massive explosion at the port in central Beirut yesterday was felt across the entire city and far beyond – as far away as Cyprus. An investigation as to the cause of the explosion is underway, but it is centred on a 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate that was stored in an unsecure warehouse at the port.

Ammonium nitrate is used in fertiliser and in the making of explosives. Port authorities in the city are currently under house arrest. Aside from the 100 dead, some 4,000 people were injured in the blast, which has also destroyed the port and causes significant damage to buildings, streets and infrastructure.

“We have a big Lebanese community in Brussels,” said Brussels-City mayor Philippe Close. “Lebanon has lived through a great deal of misery over the last several years. This community, which is an integral part of our culture and of our region, is evident everywhere: hospital workers, restaurant owners, lawyers… many of them came to Belgium to study and remained here, having grown to love this country.”

Similar blast in Belgium

The disaster in Beirut also reminded Belgians yesterday of a similar explosion that took place here. In April of 1942, a 200-ton supply of ammonium nitrate exploded in a chemical factory in Tessenderlo in Limburg province.

The blast had a similar effect on Tessenderlo as is being seen in Beirut. Some 190 people died and thousands more were injured.

Theo Govaerts was 12 years old at the time and had stayed home from school sick that day, he told Het Belang van Limburg. “I was lying in the sofa downstairs,” Govaerts said. “Suddenly there was that boom, and we had no upper storey anymore. We saw the sky from the living room.”

The cause of the explosion was human error: The ammonium nitrate arrived in one giant cake, and workers tried to break it up using dynamite.

Photo ©Laurie Dieffembacq/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw