Beirut explosion: Documents show warning signs may have been missed, ignored

Anguish is turning to anger in Beirut as authorities and citizens try to find who, or what, is to blame for the explosions.

While the president is vowing to punish those responsible, documents show warning signs were missed - or perhaps ignored - for years.

The substance, which was ammonium nitrate, was stored in Beirut's port for six years, but nothing was done to remove it. It is still unknown as to what caused the fire which then ignited the substance.

The power of ammonium nitrate has been seen before. In 1995, 168 people were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. The amount used then was just two tonnes, compared with 2750 tonnes in Beirut's explosion.

The catastrophe started when a Russian-owned cargo ship named Rhosus docked in Beirut in September 2013 while en route to Mozambique. The owner abandoned the vessel and all 2750 tonnes of its deadly cargo, which was then transferred to a port warehouse by Lebanese authorities.

Customs officials sent several letters over the years to judges, explaining the danger and asking how to get rid of it but say they never received a reply. Lebanon President Michel Aoun says he's promised the harshest punishment to those responsible.

Beirut was already in a financial crisis and no stranger to neglect and violence.

Just hours before the explosion, citizens tried to storm Lebanon's Energy Ministry to protest constant power cuts - a far cry from the 60s and 70s when Beirut was seen as the Paris of the Middle East. 

"The political system has collapsed. The banking system has collapsed. There is nowhere to start to pick up the pieces," Middle East expert Nadim Shehadi says.

Monuments around the world have been lit up with the Lebanese flag. Even Israel - officially in a state of war with Lebanon - is standing in solidarity, as Beirut stands in rage and confusion over how their own people let this happen.