Maxar satellites took photos of a port in Beirut, Lebanon before (bottom) and after (top) a store of chemicals exploded.

  • Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, suffered a catastrophic explosion at its port on Tuesday.
  • Authorities believe the blast was caused by the ignition of 2,750 tons of confiscated and abandoned ammonium nitrate fertiliser.
  • Comparisons of satellite images taken before and after the detonation reveal the extent of the damage from above.
  • The disaster has killed at least 100 people and injured more than 4,000 others.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

In the port of Beirut, a warehouse that once held confiscated fertiliser has been replaced by a water-filled crater.

These and other details come to light in a gut-wrenching satellite image of the Lebanese capital city taken on Wednesday morning by Maxar, a company that operates a fleet of high-resolution Earth-observing satellites. The pictures complement new aerial footage of the disaster scene.

The explosion occurred Tuesday evening at a warehouse in the city's port. Lebanese officials say the blast occurred following a fire accidentally started by welders, who were trying to repair a hole in the building. That procedure sparked a fire, which later set off a horrendous blast that has killed at least 100 people and injured more than 4,000.

Despite the appearance of a mushroom cloud and visible blast wave that shattered countless windows, and contrary to early conspiracy-theorist claims, the disaster was not caused by a nuclear weapon. The heart of that detonation, according to Lebanon's Supreme Defense Council, was a cache of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which is typically used as a fertiliser for crops, yet is very explosive at the right conditions.

Reporting by Business Insider's Mia Jankowicz and other journalists suggest the stash of chemicals came to Beirut around 2013 via a ship bound for Mozambique, which Beirut customs officials seized. The ship was apparently abandoned by its owner, and its stores were moved into the warehouse in 2014, where they've sat for about six years.

A "before" image of the Beirut port, taken on June 9 by Maxar's WorldView-3 satellite, is shown below at right. The "after" image from Wednesday, taken by WorldView-2, is shown at left. The two images can be compared by clicking and dragging the slider tool.

The images show that a crater hundreds of feet wide, which the Mediterranean Sea has filled with water, now exists where the warehouse once stood.

Nearby buildings have been vaporised or levelled, their frames turned to twisted steel. Numerous shipping containers are scattered about, their contents strewn over the ground. Greenery that used to decorate a roundabout is charred.

A zoomed-in comparative view of the same scene, below, better reveals the extent of the devastation.

Another set of images reveals other destruction around the port.

At right is a Maxar photo taken on July 31, showing a docked yacht. The left image shows the same ship in aftermath of the blast.

The yield, or power, of the blast is thought to be the equivalent of somewhere between several hundred and 1,000 tons of TNT. Whatever the exact number, it is several times larger than the most powerful non-nuclear ordnance in the US military's arsenal (that would be the MOAB, or "mother of all bombs)" and is well within the territory of "tactical" or "low-yield" nuclear weapons.

Lebanon's prime minister, Hassan Diab, said the explosion is under investigation. He vowed to find whoever was responsible for the tragedy.

"I will not rest until we find the person responsible for what happened," Diab said, according to NBC News.