Beirut silo collapses, reliving trauma before anniversary of blast

Beirut silo collapses, reliving trauma before anniversary of blast

  • Silos a towering reminder of the August 4, 2020 explosion
  • The smoldering fire had kept the residents of Beirut in suspense for weeks
  • The 2020 blast is seen as a symbol of the corruption of the Lebanese elite

BEIRUT, July 31 (Portal) – Part of the grain silos at the port of Beirut collapsed on Sunday just days before the second anniversary of the massive blast that damaged them, sending a cloud of dust over the capital and recalling traumatic memories of the deadly blast revive let more than 215 people.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Lebanese officials warned last week that part of the silos – a towering reminder of the cataclysmic August 4, 2020 blast – could collapse after the northern section began to tip at an accelerated rate.

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“It was the same feeling as the blast, we remembered the blast,” said Tarek Hussein, a resident of the nearby Karantina area who was shopping with his son when the collapse happened. “A few large pieces fell 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 grains that had been rotting 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 has also led the country into a devastating financial meltdown.

The blast, one of the most powerful non-nuclear blasts of all time, injured about 6,000 people and destroyed parts of Beirut, leaving tens of thousands of people homeless.

Ali Hamie, the Minister of Transport and Public Works in the interim government, told Portal he feared more parts of the silos could collapse imminently.

Environment Minister Nasser Yassin said that while authorities did not know if other parts of the silos would fall, the southern part was more stable.

The fire at the silos, which glowed orange at night in a port that still resembles a disaster area, had many Beirut residents in suspense for weeks.

“ELIMINATE TRACES” FROM AUG. 4

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

The government decided in April to demolish them, which angered the victims’ families, who wanted them left to preserve the memory of the blast. Parliament last week failed to pass legislation that would have protected them from demolition.

Citizens’ hopes that there will be accountability for the 2020 blast have dwindled as the coroner has faced high-level political opposition, including legal complaints from senior officials he was trying to question.

Prime Minister-elect Najib Mikati has said he rejects any interference in the investigation and wishes it to run its course.

However, many people have reflected distrust of the authorities, believing the fire was started or was deliberately left unchecked.

Divina Abojaoude, an engineer and a member of a committee representing victims’ families, local residents and experts, said the silos didn’t need to come down.

“They were starting to tip over and needed support and our whole aim was to support them,” she told Portal.

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

Portal could not immediately reach government officials to respond to allegations that the fire could have been contained.

Earlier this month, the economy minister cited difficulties in putting out the fire, including the risk of the silos being overturned or the fire spreading due to air pressure generated by army helicopters.

Fadi Hussein, a resident of Karantina, said he believes the collapse was intentional to erase “any trace of August 4”.

“We’re not worried about ourselves, we’re worried about our children because of the pollution” resulting from the silos collapsing, he said, noting that power outages across the country meant he couldn’t even turn on a fan at home reduce the pollution effect of the dust.

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Writing by Nayera Abdallah and Tom Perry. Edited by Hugh Lawson, Nick Macfie and Frances Kerry

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