“Some people said it looked like Hiroshima.”
On 15 May, the sixth day of its 11-day bombing campaign in Gaza, the Israeli military bombed a massive fertilizer storage facility in the northern city of Beit Lahiya.
That evening, Israeli artillery positioned north of the coastal enclave fired dozens of shells at the warehouses of the Khudair Group, setting them on fire.
Gaza’s first responders were unable to contain the fire at the time owing to its “magnitude and the intensity of Israeli shelling at the time,” Al Mezan, a human rights group in Gaza, stated.
It took weeks to fully extinguish.
The warehouses, which housed 300 tons of highly hazardous agricultural products, were completely destroyed.
The group was responsible for importing and supplying around 35 percent of Gaza’s agricultural products.
The Khudair family founded the company in 1985.
The company purchased new supplies prior to the 15 May bombing, all of which were destroyed, leaving the company in serious debt. The damage is estimated at $13 million, according to the UN monitoring group OCHA.
The loss of livelihoods affected at least 100 family members, most of them children.
In addition to the immense material loss, Israel’s bombing caused an environmental catastrophe in the area.
The fires caused “high concentrations of smoke that lasted for days,” Al Mezan said.
“The burning chemicals also released an unpleasant smell that forced nearby residents to leave their homes.”
Even seven weeks later, “the smell of chemicals was still unbearable,” OCHA said.
Some people developed rashes, and nearby residents were hospitalized for respiratory problems.
Several days after the incident, a woman miscarried her baby, which medical staff at Gaza’s Shifa hospital attributed to chemical inhalation.
“All we want is for the chemicals to be removed,” Mahmoud Khudair told OCHA.
“If we did, it would be a disaster for all of Gaza. Now, it is a disaster for us and everyone living in the vicinity.”
A team from the UN development program began removing hazardous waste on 22 September.
A lack of capacity and expertise in the area delayed the response, OCHA said.
Video by Mohammed Asad and Tala Kaddoura.