Beirut port silos burn again on anniversary of deadly explosion

Beirut port silos burn again on anniversary of deadly explosion
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A granary burns in the two-year mark of the explosion that destroyed the Port of Beirut.
A granary burns in the two-year mark of the explosion that destroyed the Port of Beirut. (Manu Ferneini for The Washington Post)


BEIRUT – On a day of nationwide mourning, Beirut’s port burned. The calm of chirping birds and running waters on Thursday was disrupted by the periodic breaking of flames attacking silos on the Lebanese coast.

It was two years after a fire in a harbor hangar triggered one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, an explosion that killed 200 people and devastated large areas of the capital. The current fire here triggers anger and fear, particularly among the victims’ families and those living near the port, who recall one of the worst days of their lives.

Family members, activists and others were marching up a hill to celebrate the anniversary and again demanding justice and accountability as parts of the silos began to fall.

The remnants of silos in Beirut’s sea port collapsed in August. 4 marks the second anniversary of the deadly explosion that destroyed much of the city. (Video: Reuters)

The grains stored in the silos were cooked, fermented and roasted under a scorching sun and intense humidity. Three weeks ago, oils from the grains ignited a fire that has licked and grown the hollow edges of some of the structures 157 feet high since then.

On Sunday, four of the 16 silos in the north block of the port began to collapse. Flames continued to weaken structures on Thursday. Four more silos tilted to the side and then fell, throwing a cloud of sand-colored dust several hundred meters away from the marchers.

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

“Measurements with both laser scanning and inclinometers show that it is stable,” he said.

In April, the government feared that the grain silos would eventually collapse, and announced that it had ordered demolition. However, activists and some victims’ families opposed the move, calling for it to be preserved as a memorial site instead.

Their protest is emblematic of a cry for an interrupted search for justice: Activists, members of parliament and others are demanding that the silos be left alone until an independent investigation into the causes of the explosion is conducted.

The criminal investigation, which began in 2020, has slowly come to a standstill: The first judge leading the investigation accused four officials of negligence in ignoring 2,750 tons of highly flammable ammonium nitrate over six years. Warehouse on the edge of a crowded city, next to fireworks and thinners.

The judge was dismissed from the case after two ex-ministers he accused complained of not being impartial in choosing the leading names to blame to appease an angry public.

Judge Tarek Bitar, who followed him, met with resistance, arguing that the officials he tried to question had immunity or no authority. They filled the courts with complaints calling for his dismissal. As a result, his duty was suspended: the courts that will decide on the complaints are suspended due to the retirement of the judges.

“Our demands are clear,” said Najat Saliba, an atmospheric chemist and newly elected MP. “And the greatest demand is for the independence of the judiciary 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 group of newly independent candidates dubbed “forces of change”. For decades they have benefited from the demand for new voices in a legislature largely led by aging men from several families.

Saliba said that the silos must have witnessed the disaster and that the barns should not be touched until justice is served.

“The government says there is an economic loss on the lost catchment area,” he told the Washington Post. But he said the priority is to provide justice to families.

“We say [ministers]No matter what, the silos will have to stay upright and upright.” “They remain to be a testament to our collective memory.”

Thousands gathered on a bridge overlooking the harbor on Thursday. At 18:07, the time of the explosion, they held a minute’s silence. Then, in the background, a victim’s mother called out to the crowd as helicopters knocked over the smoldering remains of freshly fallen silos as the water-filled pots were knocked over.

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

“It was my son’s and all victims’ right to live and be safe,” he said, his voice breaking when he heard the word “safe.”

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

A woman led the swearing-in ceremony.

“I swear by their pure blood, by the tears of mothers, brothers, fathers, children and elders,” he said, “We will not despair, we will not yield, we will not yield, we will not retreat.” We will not indulge, we will not underestimate. We are here and we will remain here until the end of time.”

At each act, the listeners raised their arms and repeated the words “I swear.”

Earlier on Thursday, some family members visited the port to pay their respects to the dead. Port security officials seemed annoyed by the weight of the day – some expressed dismay at the still attention the silos and port still receive. But others felt differently.

A soldier stood guard among dimpled metal crates, thick tangled ropes and wrecked cars, rusted aerosol cans and curtain rods still in their wraps. The three ships that were in the harbor when the explosion occurred are still there, sideways. A container thrown out of water sits rusting on concrete.

The soldier nodded, asking if the mountains of debris rising above him were caused by the explosion. “And it will remain so,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media. “Look at that, a mountain of garbage. Who’s going to lift it?” When asked if he knew of plans to clean up the site, he nodded.

The soldier lost a comrade stationed near the silos in the explosion. “He was this big when we found his car,” he said, holding his hands about 20 inches apart.

He had no idea whether the south block should remain a monument or be demolished.

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

“You get used to it. That’s life,” he said. “The ones who can’t are families. For example, I’ve known him for a year. They lost their son.”

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