Beirut port silos burned again on anniversary of deadly blast

Beirut port silos burned again on anniversary of deadly blast
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A grain silo burns two years after the explosion that destroyed the port of Beirut.
A grain silo burns two years after the explosion that destroyed the port of Beirut. (Manu Ferneini for The Washington Post)


BEIRUT – The port of Beirut burned down on the day of national mourning. On Thursday, the chirping of birds and the stillness of the rushing waters were broken by occasional bursts of flames attacking silos on the coast of Lebanon.

It has been two years since a fire in a port hangar led to one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, killing 200 people and leveling large areas of the capital. The current fire is causing anger and fear here, especially among the families of the victims and those who live near the port, reminding them of one of the worst days of their lives.

Family members, activists and others marched to the disreputable site to mark the anniversary and demand renewed justice and accountability as parts of the silos began to fall.

The remains of silos at Beirut’s seaport collapsed in August. 4, on the second anniversary of the deadly explosion that destroyed large parts of the city. (Video: Reuters)

Stored in silos, grain was cooked, fermented and roasted under the scorching sun and intense humidity. Three weeks ago, oil from the grains sparked a fire that has since grown and licked the gut sides of some of the 157-foot-tall structures.

On Sunday, four of the 16 silos in the northern block of the port began to collapse. On Thursday, the flames continued to weaken the structures. Four more silos tipped to the side and then collapsed, sending a cloud of sand-colored dust several hundred feet away from the marchers.

Emmanuel Durand, a French civil engineer who volunteered to work with rescuers to monitor the structure, said the south block was structurally sound. He said these silos were built later, were in better condition, had stronger foundations and were mostly empty at the time of the 2020 explosion. There is no fire there.

“Measurements by both the laser scanner and the inclinometers show that it is stable.

In April, fearing that all the grain silos would collapse, the government announced that it had ordered their demolition. However, activists and families of some victims opposed this move and called for them to be preserved as memorial sites.

Lebanon commemorates the victims of the explosion in Beirut with sadness and anger

Their protest is symbolic of the injustice: Activists, members of parliament and others are demanding that the silos be left alone until an independent investigation into the cause of the explosion is carried out.

The trial, which began in 2020, slowly stalled: The first judge to conduct the investigation accused four officials of negligence in failing to dispose of 2,750 tons of flammable ammonium nitrate over a 6-year period during which the material was stored on the waterfront. a warehouse on the outskirts of a crowded city, next to fireworks and paint thinners.

The judge was fired after two of the former ministers he charged filed appeals, arguing that he had failed to show neutrality in choosing prominent figures to accuse in order to appease an angry public.

The judge who followed him, Judge Tarek Bitar, faced resistance on the grounds that the officials he tried to question had immunity or lacked authority. They flooded the courts with complaints demanding his dismissal. As a result, his case was suspended: the courts where the complaints were to be heard were adjourned due to the retirement of the judges.

Najat Saliba, an atmospheric chemist and newly elected member of parliament, said, “Our demands are clear.” “And the main requirement is the independence of the judicial system so that people at least feel that the victims and their souls are not wasted.”

Saliba won a seat in parliament in May as part of a new group of independent candidates called “forces of change”. They took advantage of the demand for new votes in a legislature that for decades had been dominated by elderly men from several families.

Saliba said that the silos should witness the disaster, and the stables should not be touched until justice is served.

“The government says there is an economic loss due to the lost basin area,” the Washington Post reported. However, according to him, the priority is delivering justice to families.

“We say [ministers], no matter what, the silos must stay straight and up,” he said. “They remain as witnesses of our collective memory.”

Thousands of people gathered on the bridge overlooking the harbor on Thursday. At 6:07 p.m., when the explosion occurred, they observed a minute of silence. Later, the victim’s mother addressed the crowd as helicopters in the background carried containers filled with water over the smoldering remains of the newly blown silos.

“We want to know the truth. It is our right to know that those responsible for this heinous crime are brought to justice!” Mireille Khoury shouted into the microphone. His 15-year-old son Elias was killed in the explosion.

“It was my son’s right and all the victims’ right to live and be safe,” she said, her voice breaking on the word “safety.”

Six months after the mass explosion in Beirut, the official investigation has been suspended

Standing beneath a large Lebanese flag marked with red spots representing the blood of the lost, men and women wept silently.

A woman led the meeting by swearing.

“I swear by their pure blood, by the tears of mothers, siblings, fathers, children and elders that we will not despair, we will not be satisfied, we will not retreat. , we will not favor, we will not appreciate. We are here and we will stay here until the end.”

At each promise, the audience raised their hands and repeated the words “I swear.”

On Thursday morning, some family members visited the port to pay their respects to the deceased. Port security officers seemed unsettled by the gravity of the day – with some expressing annoyance at the attention the silos and port still received. But others felt differently.

One of the soldiers stood guard among bent metal crates, thick tangles of rope and wrecked cars, rusted aerosol cans and curtain rods still in packaging. The three ships that were in the harbor when the explosion happened are still lying side by side. A ship thrown clear of the water sits rusting on the concrete.

The soldier asked if the debris towering over him was all from the explosion and nodded. “And it will stay,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “Look, this is a dump. Who will remove it?” Asked if he was aware of plans to clean up the site, he shook his head. “Who can pay?”

During the explosion, the soldier lost a friend who was standing near the silos. “When we found his car, it was this big,” he said, holding his hands about 20 inches apart.

He had no idea whether the southern quarter should be preserved as a monument or demolished.

He said it doesn’t feel strange working so close to a place where he lost a friend.

“You get used to it. It’s life,” I said. “Those who can’t are families. For example, I knew him for a year. They lost their son.”

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