Part of the silos in the port of Beirut, damaged in the 2020 explosion, collapse
Assaad Haddad, the Port Silo’s general manager, told The Associated Press that “everything is under control” but the situation has not yet calmed down. A few minutes later, the dust subsided and calm returned.
However, Youssef Mallah of the Civil Defense Department said other parts of the northern block of silos were at risk and other sections of the giant ruin could collapse.
The 48-meter-tall, 50-year-old silos had withstood the force of the explosion two years ago, effectively protecting the western part of Beirut from the blast that killed more than 200 people, injured more than 6,000 and severely damaged entire neighborhoods. .
In July, a fire broke out in the north block of silos due to grain fermentation. Firefighters and Lebanese Army soldiers were unable to extinguish it and it smoldered for weeks, spreading an unpleasant smell. The environment and health ministries last week issued instructions to residents living near the port to stay indoors in well-ventilated spaces.
The fire and the dramatic sight of the partially blackened silo have brought back memories and in some cases trauma for survivors of the gigantic explosion that tore through the port on August 4, 2020.
Many rushed to close windows and go inside after Sunday’s collapse.
Rima Zahed, whose brother died in the 2020 blast and who was part of a group of survivors lobbying for the preservation of silos as evidence of the port blast, blamed the government for not taking measures to put out the fire which lasted for a week.
“We were talking about it three weeks ago, but they chose to do nothing and leave the fire,” she said. “It shows the failure of the state.”
When fermenting grain burst into flames earlier in July, firefighters and Lebanese army soldiers tried to put out the fire, but officials and experts told them to stop, fearing that the extra humidity water does not aggravate the situation. The Interior Ministry said more than a week later that the fire had spread, after hitting nearby power cables.
The silos continued to smolder for weeks as the stench of fermented grain seeped into nearby neighborhoods. Residents and survivors of the blast told the AP that seeing the smoldering silos was like reliving their trauma from the port explosion. The environment and health ministries last week asked residents living near the port to stay indoors in well-ventilated spaces.
The Lebanese Red Cross distributed K-N95 masks to people living nearby and authorities ordered firefighters and port workers to stay away from the immediate area near the silos.
Emmanuel Durand, a French civil engineer who volunteered for the government-mandated team of experts, told the AP earlier in July that the north block of the silo had slowly tilted over time. , but that the recent fire had accelerated the pace and caused irreversible damage to the already fragile structure. He told the AP on Sunday that he had sent out warnings that other parts of the northern bloc could also collapse imminently.
Durand monitored silos thousands of miles away using data produced by sensors he installed more than a year ago, and briefed a team of Lebanese government and security officials on the developments. from a WhatsApp group. He repeatedly warned that a collapse was imminent.
Last April, the Lebanese government decided to demolish the silos, but suspended this decision following protests by the families of the victims and survivors of the explosion. They argue that the silos may contain evidence useful to the forensic investigation and that they should serve as a memorial to the tragic incident.
The Beirut port explosion was one of the largest explosions in Lebanon’s troubled history. It came less than a year after an uprising rocked Lebanon, with hundreds of thousands of people protesting against the country’s well-established sectarian political parties. The blast also precipitated Lebanon’s economic crisis, costing billions of dollars in damage and destroying thousands of tons of grain. Three quarters of the population now live in poverty.
The barely standing silos have since become an iconic structure in the heart of the devastated port, surrounded to this day by crushed vehicles and warehouses, and piles of debris.
Sunday’s collapse of part of the northern section of the silos comes days before the second anniversary of the 2020 explosion.
The Lebanese investigation revealed that senior government and security officials were aware of the hazardous materials stored at the port, although no official has been convicted so far. The officials involved later filed legal challenges against the investigating judge, which suspended the investigation since December.