Beirut blast: victims reject plans to pull down damaged port silos

Victims of the deadly explosion accuse the government of trying to evade accountability

Dozens of victims of Beirut’s deadly 2020 port blast protested on Thursday following the government’s approval of the demolition of the 48-metre tall silos that remain standing but badly damaged nearly two years after the tragedy.

“All of the Lebanese are against their destruction,” Rima Zahed, who lost her brother Amin in the blast, told The National. At least 214 people died alongside Amin, a port employee.

“Even if they are just made of stone, the silos are the only living witness of their corruption and crimes,” said Ms Zahed, referring to Lebanon’s political class.

Human rights organisations have previously pointed at negligence of top officials, which led to the explosion of hundreds of tonnes of chemicals in August 2020, seven years after their arrival at the port.

Former ministers and MPs succeeded in pausing the investigation into the causes of the blast for the fourth time on December 23.

The silos are structurally beyond repair
Swiss company, Amann Engineering

Lebanon’s Information Minister Ziad Makari said after a Cabinet meeting that it had tasked the Council for Development and Reconstruction to supervise the demolition process, without giving a time frame.

Mr Makari said the decision was based on a “technical report” that concluded the silos could collapse in the coming months. He did not name the report’s authors but local media said it was consulting firm Khatib and Alami, which did not answer a request for comment.

Economy Minister Amin Salam told The National last month that the judge investigating the blast had informed the government that having access to the site was not necessary for his inquiry, paving the way for the demolition.

Ms Zahed, 41, compared the decision to destroy the silos to Lebanese officials’ attitude towards the country’s bloody 1975-1990 civil war. “It’s happening all over again. They want to remove the witness so that people forget,” she said.

Architect Jad Tabet, who headed Lebanon’s Order of Engineers and Architects at the time of the blast, previously told The National that the silos should be kept upright with reinforcements while discussions about the port’s future continued.

A March 2022 report by Swiss company Amann Engineering states that the silos’ northern block has been tilting by an average of 0.85mm a day since the blast. The south block remains stable.

The north block’s rotation varies between 0.2mm a day and 2mm a day depending on the weather, said the report. The tilt accelerated in January 2022 due to bad weather and temperature changes.

The report said that the silos would “collapse vertically on themselves once the tilt makes the structural stress unbearable”. It declined to give a date but wrote that the north block could remain standing for up to a decade.

“The silos are structurally beyond repair,” read the report. “Any intent to 'restore', 'reinforce' etc would put lives at risk”.

If the silos are not demolished, they “will forever remain a risk in their immediate vicinity”, says the report. It suggests that removing the worst damaged northern block while keeping the southern block “would be a good compromise”.

The World Bank and Lebanon’s Public Works Ministry launched a study in February to develop a master plan for Beirut’s port and rewrite its legislation. It is expected to require seven to eight months, a World Bank spokesman told The National last month.

Updated: April 17, 2022, 12:05 PM