Part of Beirut’s port silos damaged in the 2020 blast collapse

Part of Beirut’s port silos damaged in the 2020 blast collapse

BEIRUT (AP) — Part of Beirut’s massive port grain elevators, which had been shredded in the 2020 blast, collapsed in a huge cloud of dust on Sunday after a weeks-long blaze sparked by grain that had been fermented and ignited in the summer heat .

The northern block of silos toppled after an explosion, kicking up thick gray dust that blanketed the iconic structure and harbor next to a residential area. It was initially unclear whether anyone was injured.

Assaad Haddad, the Port Silo’s director general, told The Associated Press that “everything is under control” but that the situation has not calmed down yet. Minutes later the dust settled and peace returned.

However, Youssef Mallah of the Ministry of Civil Protection said other parts of the northern block of silos were at risk and that other parts of the huge ruin could collapse.

The 50-year-old, 48-meter (157-foot) tall silos withstood the force of the blast two years earlier, effectively protecting western Beirut from the blast that killed over 200 people, injured more than 6,000 and severely damaged entire neighborhoods.

In July, a fire broke out in the north block of silos because the grain was fermenting. Firefighters and Lebanese Army soldiers could not put it out and it smoldered for weeks, spreading a foul odor. Environment and Health Departments last week advised residents near the port to stay indoors in well-ventilated spaces.

The fire and the dramatic sight of the partially blackened silo stirred memories and, in some cases, trauma for the survivors of the gigantic explosion that rocked the port on August 4, 2020.

Many rushed to close the windows and return indoors after Sunday’s collapse.

Rima Zahed, whose brother died in the 2020 blast and was part of a group of survivors campaigning to preserve the silos as evidence of the port blast, accused the government of failing to take action to end the weeks-long fire to delete.

“We talked about it three weeks ago, but they chose to do nothing and leave it on fire,” she said. “That shows the failure of the state.”

When the fermenting grain ignited in early July, Lebanese firefighters and army soldiers had tried to put out the blaze, but officials and experts urged them to stop, fearing the extra moisture from the water would make the situation worse. The Home Office said more than a week later that the fire had spread after it reached some power cables nearby.

The silos continued to smolder for weeks as the stench of the fermented grains seeped into surrounding neighborhoods. Local residents and survivors of the blast told the AP that seeing the smoking silos was like reliving their trauma from the port blast. Environment and Health Ministries last week advised residents near the port to stay indoors in well-ventilated areas.

The Lebanese Red Cross distributed K-N95 masks to people living nearby, and officials ordered firefighters and dockers to stay away from the immediate area around the silos.

Emmanuel Durand, a French civil engineer who volunteered for the government-contracted team of experts, told the AP in early July that the silo’s northern block had slowly toppled over time, but that the recent fire is accelerating the rate and making it irreversible Damage was caused by the already weakened structure. He told the AP Sunday he had sent warnings that other parts of the northern bloc could collapse imminently

Durand has been monitoring the silos from thousands of miles away, using data sourced from sensors he installed over a year ago, and updating a team of Lebanese government and security officials on a WhatsApp group of developments. Again and again he warned that a collapse was imminent.

Last April, the Lebanese government decided to demolish the silos, but suspended the decision after protests from families of the victims and survivors of the blast. They claim that the silos may contain evidence useful in the judicial investigation and that they should serve as a memorial to the tragic incident.

The blast at the port of Beirut was one of the largest blasts in Lebanon’s turbulent history. It came less than a year after an uprising rocked Lebanon, with hundreds of thousands protesting against the country’s deeply entrenched sectarian political parties. The blast also triggered Lebanon’s economic crisis, causing billions of dollars in damage and destroying thousands of tons of crops. Three quarters of the population now live in poverty.

Barely standing, the silos have since become an iconic structure at the heart of the devastated port, which to this day is surrounded by crushed vehicles and warehouses and piles of rubble.

The collapse of part of the northern section of the silos on Sunday comes just days before the second anniversary of the blast in 2020.

The Lebanese investigation has revealed that senior government and security officials were aware of the dangerous material stored at the port, although no officials have been convicted so far. The officers involved then raised legal challenges against the investigating judge, who suspended the investigation since December.