Beirut grain silos collapse after three-week fire at port

A chunk of the site's northern block, heavily damaged in the 2020 blast, collapsed in a huge cloud of dust

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Part of Beirut’s port grain silos, severely damaged in the 2020 explosion that killed more than 200 people, collapsed on Sunday after a fire that lasted more than three weeks.

Video footage posted online on Sunday night showed clouds of smoke and dust spreading across the port from the ruined site as parts fell down.

Health Minister Firass Abiad told The National that the Environment Ministry had reported that there were no toxins in the air. There were no reports of deaths or injuries after the partial collapse, which comes only days before the two-year anniversary of the explosion.

On Sunday night, a Lebanese army helicopter dropped water on the silos in an effort to douse the flames. Other parts of the northern silos remain at risk of collapsing.

The environment and health ministries last week advised residents living near the port to stay indoors in well-ventilated spaces.

The fire at the silos has been blamed on fermenting wheat stocks and the summer heat.

Caretaker environment minister Nasser Yassin last week said there was an “increased risk” of the northern structure collapsing because the rate at which the grain silos were tilting had increased from 2 millimetres a day to 2.5mm an hour.

The 2020 explosion occurred after a massive stock of ammonium nitrate, which had been sitting in storage at the port for years, caught fire.

The silos, which shielded parts of Beirut from the blast, remain a sensitive topic in Lebanon. The 2020 explosion has been blamed on mismanagement and corruption, and is viewed as a symptom of the country's many systemic problems.

In April, the Lebanese Cabinet approved the demolition of the silos after a survey found they could collapse in the coming months.

But many, including some families of the 2020 victims, want the silos to remain as a memorial. Some believe the government is using the fire as a pretext to allow the demolition of the silos.

An investigation into the port explosion by judge Tarek Bitar has struggled to make headway amid repeated delays. Two sitting MPs in the Lebanese Parliament have been charged in connection with the investigation but have refused to attend interrogation hearings.

Updated: August 01, 2022, 11:22 AM
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