Part of Beirut port silos damaged in the 2020 explosion collapsed

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BEIRUT (AP) – A section of Beirut’s massive port grain silos, which shattered in the 2020 blast, collapsed in a massive dust cloud on Sunday after a weeks-long fire triggered by grains fermented and ignited in the summer heat.

The northern block of silos collapsed after what sounded like an explosion, kicking off the thick gray dust that enveloped the iconic structure and the harbor next to a residential area. It was not immediately clear if anyone was injured.

Port Silo General Manager Assaad Haddad told The Associated Press that “everything is under control” but the situation has not yet subsided. Minutes later, the dust settled and calmness returned.

Giant 50-year-old, 48-metre-high silos resisted the force of the blast two years ago, effectively protecting western Beirut from the explosion that killed more than 200 people, injured more than 6,000, and badly damaged entire neighborhoods.

In July, a fire broke out in the northern block of the silos due to fermentation of grains. Firefighters and Lebanese Army soldiers were unable to put out the blaze, which for weeks smoldered and scorched nearby cities. Last week, the environment and health ministries instructed residents living near the port to stay indoors in well-ventilated areas.

French civil engineer Emmanuel Durand, who volunteered for the government-appointed team of experts, told the AP the northern block of the silo has toppled since the 2020 eruption, but the recent fire has weakened its fragile structure. precipitating a possible collapse.

When the fermented grains caught fire in early July, firefighters and Lebanese soldiers tried to put out the fire with water, but withdrew as the humidity made the situation worse. More than a week later, the Home Office said the fire had spread after reaching some nearby electrical wiring.

Silos smoldered for weeks as the smell of fermented grain seeped into nearby neighborhoods. Residents who survived the 2020 eruption said the fire and smell reminded them of their trauma. Last week, the environment and health ministries instructed residents living near the port to stay indoors in well-ventilated areas.

The Lebanese Red Cross distributed K-N95 masks to those living nearby, and authorities ordered firefighters and dockers to stay away from the immediate area near the silos.

French civil engineer Emmanuel Durand, who volunteered for the government-appointed team of experts, told the AP in early July that the northern block of the silo was tilted over time, but the recent fire accelerated the pace and caused irreversible damage. already weakened structure.

Using data generated by sensors he installed more than a year ago, Duran monitors silos from thousands of kilometers away and keeps a team of Lebanese government and security officials informed of developments in a WhatsApp group. He warned in several reports that the northern bloc could collapse at any moment.

Last April, the Lebanese government decided to demolish the silos, but suspended the decision after protests from the victims and families of the survivors of the explosion. They argue that the silos could contain useful evidence for forensic investigation and should be a memorial to the tragic event.

The Lebanese investigation revealed that top government and security officials were aware of the dangerous goods stored in the port, but so far no official has been convicted. Authorities involved later brought legal appeals to the judge leading the investigation, which has suspended the investigation since December.

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