Most of smoldering Beirut port silos collapse

BEIRUT — Another key piece of the derelict Beirut port silo collapsed Tuesday morning in a cloud of dust. No injuries were reported, and although the area had long been evacuated, the collapse was another painful reminder of the horrific explosions of August 2020.

The collapse left the southern part of the silo standing next to a pile of scorched ruins. The northern block had been slowly tumbling since the first explosion two years ago, but deteriorated rapidly after a grain fermentation fire more than a month ago.

The 50-year-old, 48-meter (157-foot) high silo withstood the force of the August 4, 2020 explosion that left more than 200 dead and more than 6,000 wounded in western Beirut. effectively protected. And badly damaged the whole neighborhood.

Emmanuel Durand, a French civil engineer who has volunteered for a government-commissioned team of experts, told the Associated Press that the speed of the tilt accelerated sharply Monday night, just hours before the collapse.

“As expected, we had a very sharp acceleration,” explained Durand. “When this happens, you know it’s gone.”

The country’s interim environment minister, Nasser Yassin, told Lebanese television that the government was now looking at ways to ensure the survival of the southern bloc. He urged air quality inspections and said experts will conduct air quality tests.

In April, the Lebanese government decided to dismantle the silo, but put the decision on hold after protests from the families of victims and survivors of the blast. It is possible, and argues that it should stand as a memorial to the tragedy of 2020.

Lebanon Silo
Smoke rises from the damaged northern block silo during the massive August 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut on July 28, 2022 ​​(Hussein Malla/AP Photo)

In July, fermenting grain caused a fire in the north block of the silo. Firefighters and Lebanese soldiers were unable to extinguish it and it smoldered for over a month. Authorities had warned the silo could collapse, but feared it would endanger the lives of firefighters and soldiers.

Explosion survivors and residents near the port told AP that watching the fire from their homes and offices recounted the trauma of the port explosion, which began with a fire at a warehouse near the silo containing hundreds of tons of explosives. He said it was like an experience. Ammonium nitrate that had been improperly stored for years.

In late July, the Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Health issued instructions to residents living near the port to stay indoors with good ventilation.

Durand told the Associated Press last month that fires from the grain had accelerated the tilting of the shredded silo, causing irreversible damage to the fragile concrete foundation.

Since then, the structure has deteriorated rapidly. In late July, part of the Northern Block collapsed for the first time. A few days later, on his second anniversary from the Beirut port explosion, about a quarter of the structure collapsed. On Sunday, the fire spread to much of the silo.

Kareem Chehayeb

Associated Press