Beirut silo collapses, reigniting trauma ahead of blast anniversary

  • The silos, a towering reminder of the August 4, 2020 explosion
  • A smoldering fire had left Beirut residents on edge for weeks
  • 2020 explosion seen as symbol of Lebanese elite corruption

BEIRUT, July 31 (Reuters) – Part of the grain silos at the port of Beirut collapsed on Sunday days before the second anniversary of the massive explosion that damaged them, sending a cloud of dust over the capital and reigniting traumatic memories of the explosion that killed more than 215 people.

No injuries were reported immediately.

Lebanese officials warned last week that part of the silos – a towering reminder of the catastrophic explosion on August 4, 2020 – could collapse after the northern part began to tilt at an accelerated rate.

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“It was the same feeling as when the explosion happened, we remembered the explosion,” said Tarek Hussein, a resident of the nearby Karantina region, who was shopping with his son when the collapse has occurred. “Some big pieces fell off and my son got scared when he saw it,” he said.

A fire had been smoldering in the silos for several weeks, which officials said was the result of the summer heat igniting fermenting grain left to rot inside since the explosion.

The 2020 explosion was caused by ammonium nitrate that had been stored unsafely in the port since 2013. It is widely seen by Lebanese as a symbol of corruption and poor governance by a ruling elite that also dragged the country down into a devastating financial collapse.

One of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions on record, the blast injured some 6,000 people and destroyed swaths of Beirut, leaving tens of thousands homeless.

Ali Hamie, transport and public works minister in the caretaker government, told Reuters he feared other parts of the silos could collapse imminently.

Environment Minister Nasser Yassin said while authorities were unsure if other parts of the silos would fall, the southern part was more stable.

The burning of the silos, bright orange at night inside a port that still looks like a disaster area, had left many Beirut residents on edge for weeks.

‘REMOVING THE TRACES’ OF AUG. 4

There has been controversy over what to do with damaged silos.

The government took the decision in April to destroy them, angering the families of the victims who wanted to leave them to preserve the memory of the explosion. Last week, parliament failed to pass legislation that would have protected them from demolition.

Citizens’ hopes that there will be accountability for the 2020 explosion have faded as the investigative judge faced high-level political resistance, including legal complaints from senior officials whom he sought to interrogate.

Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati said he rejected any interference in the investigation and wanted it to take its course.

However, reflecting distrust of the authorities, many people said they believed the fire had been started intentionally or deliberately had not been brought under control.

Divina Abojaoude, an engineer and member of a committee representing victims’ families, residents and experts, said the silos did not have to fall.

“They were gradually bowing and needed support, and our whole goal was to get them supported,” she told Reuters.

“The fire was natural and sped things up. If the government had wanted to, they could have contained the fire and reduced it, but we suspect they wanted the silos to collapse.”

Reuters could not immediately reach government officials to respond to the accusation that the fire could have been brought under control.

Earlier this month, the economy minister spoke of difficulties in extinguishing the blaze, including the risk of the silos overturning or the fire spreading due to the atmospheric pressure generated by the helicopters of the army.

Fadi Hussein, a resident of Karantina, said he believed the collapse was intentional to remove “every trace of August 4”.

“We are not worried for ourselves, but for our children, because of the pollution,” resulting from the collapse of silos, he said, noting that power cuts in the country prevented him even turn on a fan at home to reduce the impact of dust.

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Written by Nayera Abdallah and Tom Perry Editing by Hugh Lawson, Nick Macfie and Frances Kerry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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