Beirut port silos on fire again on anniversary of deadly blast

A grain silo is on fire on the two-year mark of the blast that destroyed the Port of Beirut.
A grain silo is on fire on the two-year mark of the blast that destroyed the Port of Beirut. (Manu Ferneini for The Washington Post)


BEIRUT — On a nationwide day of mourning, Beirut’s port burned. The calm of chirping birds and lapping waters on Thursday was broken by the periodic snap of the flames attacking the silos on Lebanon’s waterfront.

It was two years to the day after a fire in a hangar at the port triggered one of history’s largest nonnuclear explosions, a blast that killed 200 people and leveled vast swaths of the capital. The current fire is triggering anger and fear here, especially among the families of the victims and those who live near the port, for whom it’s recalling one of the worst days of their lives.

Family members, activists and others were marching to an overlook to mark the anniversary and again demand justice and accountability when parts of the silos began to fall.

Remnants of silos at Beirut’s sea port collapsed on Aug. 4, on the second anniversary of the deadly explosion that destroyed large parts of the city. (Video: Reuters)

Grains stored in the silos had been baking under a broiling sun and intense humidity, fermenting and toasting. Three weeks ago, the oils from the grains sparked a fire, which has been growing and licking the gutted sides of some of the 157-foot-tall structures ever since.

On Sunday, four of 16 silos in the port’s northern bloc began collapsing. On Thursday, the flames continued to weaken the structures. Four more silos leaned to the side and then fell, throwing up a cloud of sand-colored dust a few hundred feet away from the marchers.

Emmanuel Durand, a French civil engineer who has volunteered to work alongside rescuers to monitor the structure, said the southern bloc is 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. There is no fire burning there.

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

In April, the government, fearing the grain silos would all eventually collapse, announced that it had ordered their demolition. But activists and some families of victims have argued against the move, calling instead for their preservation as a memorial site.

Their protest is symbolic of the outcry over a disrupted pursuit of justice: Activists, members of parliament and others are demanding the silos be left alone until an independent investigation into the causes of the blast is conducted.

A judicial probe that began in 2020 has come to a slow halt: The first judge leading the investigation charged four officials with negligence for ignoring 2,750 tons of highly combustible ammonium nitrate for six years, during which time the material was stored on the waterfront in a warehouse alongside fireworks and paint thinners, on the edge of a crowded city.

The judge was dismissed from the case after two of the former ministers he charged filed a complaint, alleging that he had demonstrated a lack of neutrality in choosing…

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