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Detailed Forensic Reconstruction of the Beirut Port Explosions

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2020

On August 4, 2020, materials stored in a warehouse in Beirut, Lebanon caught on fire and then exploded multiple times. More than 200 people were killed, 6,500 injured, and around 300,000 residents were left homeless. Using photos and videos shot of the incident as well as other materials, a company called Forensic Architecture built a 3D model of the warehouse (inside and out), the fires, and the explosions. They cleverly used the unique second-to-second shape of the smoke plumes to sync up various bits of video shot from different vantage points.

We collected and examined images and videos taken by witnesses of the blast and shared on different platforms online. Using details about the smoke, fires, and explosions, we were able to geolocate each piece of footage and calculate the camera’s cone of vision. We places the cameras in the open source 3D model of the city , which we had adjusted to match the necessary precision. This helped us to identify the precise location of the source of the smoke plume within Warehouse 12 in each frame of each footage.

It’s a fascinating analysis. After going through more than 9 minutes of explanation of what they learned about the placement of materials (including highly explosive ammonium nitrate, tires, and fireworks) inside the warehouse from smoke colors, interior videos, and warehouse manifests, the narrator says simply:

From an engineering perspective, this is the spacial layout of a make-shift bomb on the scale of a warehouse, awaiting detonation.

The video is also available in Arabic. They’ve made the 3D files of the warehouse, the smoke plumes, and the port — as well as the source media used in their analysis — freely available for download on GitHub. (thx to several people who sent this in)