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Beirut port silos burn again on anniversary of deadly blast

Beirut port silos burn again on anniversary of deadly blast
Written by boustamohamed31

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 Ferneyi for The Washington Post)

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BEIRUT — On a day of national mourning, the port of Beirut burned down. The tranquility of chirping birds and lapping waters on Thursday was broken by the intermittent crackle of flames attacking silos on the Lebanese coast.

It’s been two years since a fire in a port hangar caused one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, an explosion that killed 200 people and leveled huge swaths 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, for whom it is one of the worst days of their lives.

Family members, activists and others marched to a sight to mark the anniversary and again demanded justice and accountability as parts of the silos began to fall.

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

The grains stored in the silos baked under hot sun and intense humidity, fermented and toasted. Three weeks ago, oils from the beans sparked a fire that has since grown and licked the gutted walls of some of the 157-foot-tall structures.

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

Emmanuel Durand, a French civil engineer who volunteered to work alongside rescuers to monitor the structure, said the south block was structurally sound. Those silos were built later, are in better condition, have stronger foundations and were mostly empty at the time of the 2020 blast, he said. No fire burns there.

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

In April, the government, fearing that the grain silos would eventually collapse, announced that it had ordered their demolition. But campaigners and some victims’ families opposed the move, calling for them to be preserved as a memorial instead.

Lebanon mourns the victims of the Beirut attack with grief and anger

Their protest is emblematic of the protest against the interrupted pursuit of 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 carried out.

A judicial inquiry that began in 2020 has slowly stalled: The first judge presiding over the inquiry charged four officials with negligence for neglecting 2,750 tons of highly flammable ammonium nitrate over six years, during which time the material was stored ashore in a warehouse next to fireworks and paint thinners, on the edge of an overcrowded city.

The judge was cleared of the case after two of the former ministers he had indicted filed a complaint, claiming he had shown a lack of neutrality in choosing prominent figures to indict to appease an angry public.

The judge who followed him, Judge Tarek Bitar, faced resistance from officials he tried to question, arguing that they had immunity or that he lacked authority. They flooded the courts with appeals for his removal. As a result, his work is on hold: the courts that must rule on the appeals are on hiatus amid the retirement of judges.

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

Saliba won a seat in parliament in May as part of a group of new independent candidates dubbed the “forces of change”. They took advantage of the search for new voices in a legislature run for decades mostly by aging men from several families.

Saliba said the silos should stand as witnesses to the calamity, the stables should not be touched until justice is served.

“The government says there is an economic loss in the Lost Basin area,” she told The Washington Post. But the priority, she said, is bringing justice to the families.

“We tell [ministers], whatever happens, the silos will have to stay straight and up,” she said. “They remain to stand as a testament to our collective memory.

Thousands gathered on a bridge overlooking the harbor on Thursday. At 6:07 p.m., when the explosion took place, they observed a moment of silence. Then, as helicopters in the background dropped containers of water over the smoldering remains of the silos that had just fallen, the mother of a victim addressed the crowd.

“We want to know the truth. It is our right to know that those responsible for this horrific crime are brought to justice!” Mireille Khoury shouted into the microphone. Her son Elias, 15, was killed in the blast.

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

Six months after the powerful explosion in Beirut, the official investigation began

Men and women standing under a large Lebanese flag marked with red spots that represent the blood of the lost wept softly.

A woman led the assembly in an oath.

“I swear by their pure blood, by the tears of mothers, brothers and sisters, fathers, children and elders,” she read in a statement, “that we will not despair, we will not acquiesce, we will not submit, we will not back down. we will not indulge, we will not underestimate. We are here and we will stay here until the end of the world.”

At each promise, the listeners repeated the words “I swear” with raised hands.

Earlier on Thursday, some family members visited the port to pay their respects to the dead. Port security officers seemed unfazed by the gravity of the day – some expressing irritation at the attention the silos and port still received. But others felt differently.

A soldier stood guard among piles of dented metal crates, thick tangled ropes and wrecked cars, rusted aerosol cans and curtain rods still in their packaging. Three ships that were in the harbor when the explosion happened are still there and lying on their sides. A vessel thrown out of the water sits rusting on concrete.

The soldier, asked if all the mountains of debris towering above him were from the explosion, nodded. “And it will stay,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “Look at it, it’s a mountain of garbage. Who’s going to remove it?” Asked if he knew of plans to clear the site, he shook his head. “Who can afford it?

The soldier lost a friend in the blast, a comrade who was stationed near the silos. “When we found his vehicle, it was so big,” he said, holding his hands about 20 inches apart.

He had no opinion on whether the south block should be preserved as a monument or demolished.

He said it’s not strange to work so close to a place where he lost a friend.

“You get used to it. This is life,” he said. “The ones who can’t are the families. I, for one, knew him for a year. They lost their son.

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