Grain silos in the port of Beirut damaged by the explosion end up collapsing

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BEIRUT – The last of Beirut’s unstable grain silos collapsed on Tuesday morning, two years after a deadly explosion severely damaged the structures, which for weeks burned and slowly crumbled before the eyes of a traumatized country.

No injuries were reported as the area was evacuated in anticipation of the collapse, but the sight of the dramatic large plume of dust emanating from the harbor was reminiscent of August 4, 2020, when smoke billowing from a fire at the port preceded an explosion of tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate. The explosion killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and displaced thousands.

For locals, the silos are a kind of living proof of the tragedies the Lebanese have endured over the decades, in which events that shock the country go unexplained and no justice is served.

On the anniversary of the deadly explosion, the port of Lebanon is once again in flames

The silos that fell on Tuesday were the last in the structurally unstable northern block, according to Emmanuel Durand, a French civil engineer who volunteered to work alongside rescue workers to monitor the structure. Cereals that had been fermenting and roasting in the sun for two years caught fire last month, weakening silos and starting the process of collapse – most recently on the second anniversary of the explosion.

In April, the Lebanese government said it had ordered the demolition of all the silos, fearing their possible collapse. But activists, families of victims and engineers have fought the government’s decision, with engineers stressing that the southern block remains structurally sound. Families of the victims and independent lawmakers have demanded that the southern part be left as a landmark of what happened until an independent investigation is carried out.

A judicial inquiry opened in 2020 into liability for alleged official negligence that allowed 2,750 tonnes of highly combustible ammonium nitrate to be stored for six years on the outskirts of a densely populated town. The investigation has been repeatedly stalled, with investigating judges mired in complaints by officials accusing them of a lack of neutrality and arguing for investigative immunity.

“When you don’t get justice, you still get hurt and you still don’t have a solution,” said environmental activist Samer Khoury, 31. “For me, it’s not called PTSD anymore,” he said, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder, but rather CTSD – constant traumatic stress disorder.

‘Do you think this picture will change my life?’

If the silos are removed and are no longer there as a monument to behold, Khoury continued, “one way or another you will stop thinking about [the blast] or even consider that it happened.

An urgent bill was tabled in parliament in July by an independent legislator, seeking to classify the silos as a national heritage site. But when the bill was put to a vote, the legislative session turned into insults and accusations of voter fraud. Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri adjourned the session.

Officials from Berri’s party, the Amal Movement, are among many named in the judicial inquiries into the explosion.

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