BEIRUT (AP) — Another major section of Beirut’s devastated port silos collapsed Tuesday morning in a cloud of dust. No injuries were reported – the area had long since been evacuated – but the collapse was another painful reminder of the horrific explosion in August 2020.
The collapse left the southern part of the silos standing next to a pile of charred ruins. The north block had already been slowly toppling since the initial explosion two years ago, but quickly deteriorated after catching fire more than a month ago due to grain fermentation.
The 50-year-old, 48-meter (157-foot) high silos had withstood the force of the August 4, 2020 explosion, effectively protecting the western part of Beirut from the blast that killed more than 200 people, injured more of 6,000 and severely damaged entire neighborhoods.
The country’s acting environment minister, Nasser Yassin, told Lebanese television that the government would now consider how to ensure the southern bloc remains standing. He urged residents near the port to wear masks and said experts would carry out air quality tests.
In April, the Lebanese government decided to demolish the silos, but suspended the decision following protests from the families of the victims and survivors of the explosion. They argue that the silos may contain evidence useful to the forensic investigation and that they should serve as a memorial to the 2020 tragedy.
In July, a fire broke out in the north block of silos due to grain fermentation. Firefighters and Lebanese army soldiers were unable to extinguish it and it smoldered for more than a month. Officials had warned that the silo could collapse, but feared risking the lives of firefighters and soldiers who struggled to get too close to put out the blaze or drop containers of water from helicopters.
Blast survivors and residents near the port told The Associated Press that watching the blaze from their homes and offices was like reliving the trauma of the port explosion, which began with a fire in a warehouse near the silos that contained hundreds of tons of explosive ammonium nitrate, improperly stored there for years.
The environment and health ministries issued instructions in late July to residents living near the port to stay indoors in well-ventilated spaces.
Emmanuel Durand, a French civil engineer who volunteered for the government-mandated team of experts, told the AP last month that the grain fire had accelerated the tilting speed of the jagged silo and caused irreversible damage to its weak concrete foundation. .
The structure has since deteriorated rapidly. At the end of July, part of the northern block collapsed for the first time. A few days later, on the second anniversary of the Beirut port explosion, about a quarter of the structure collapsed. On Sunday, the fire spread to large sections of the silo.
Kareem Chehayeb, Associated Press