Part of Beirut’s giant silos collapses, 2 years after explosion

BEIRUT-

A large block of Beirut’s port giant grain silos, ripped apart in a massive explosion two years ago, collapsed on Thursday as hundreds of people marched in the Lebanese capital to mark the second anniversary of the blast that killed dozens.

The north block of the silos, consisting of four towers, slowly tilted for days before collapsing, causing a huge cloud of dust. The silos had protected West Beirut neighborhoods in the August 4, 2020 explosion that killed nearly 220 people, injured more than 6,000 and caused billions of dollars worth of damage.

Thursday’s collapse of about a quarter of the structure occurred an hour before hundreds of people gathered outside the facility to mark the second anniversary of the disaster. Authorities had evacuated parts of the port earlier this week, after an initial section of the silos collapsed on Sunday, as a precaution and there was no indication anyone was injured.

The 50-year-old, 48-meter (157-foot) tall silos had withstood the force of the 2020 explosion that destroyed much of the port. Many in Lebanon, including the families of the victims, have been demanding that the silos be kept for future generations as testimony to an explosion they say was caused by widespread corruption and mismanagement in the tiny Mediterranean nation.

The initial collapse on Sunday was sparked by a week-long fire, sparked by grain debris left over from the 2020 explosion. The grains had begun to ferment and ignited in the summer heat. Experts warned of more collapses in the coming days and said the entire structure of the silos was in danger of collapsing.

The anniversary came amid calls for an international investigation into the blast, one of the single most destructive incidents in Lebanon’s turbulent modern history. The internal investigation has been stalled since December following legal challenges by accused and accused officials against the judge leading the investigation.

Hundreds of people, including the families of the victims, marched from three locations in Beirut to the main road outside the port. Some carried white coffins with the names of some of the victims while others carried pitchforks demanding punishment for those responsible.

“Two years later the pain is still the same,” said one of the relatives who lost his brother.

Two years later, none of the leading politicians have apologized to the Lebanese. The government called for a day of mourning, which caused many businesses to close.

Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the Lebanese investigation, charged four former senior government officials with intentional homicide and negligence that led to the deaths of dozens of people. He also accused several top security officials in the case.

But none of them have been arrested and two of the defendants were re-elected to parliament in May.

“There is no justice under the rule of the militia and the mafia,” read a banner carried during Thursday’s march, an apparent reference to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah that has been calling for the ouster of Bitar, whom it describes as biased.

Many have blamed corruption and mismanagement by the Lebanese government for a long time, saying it paved the way for the tragedy, when hundreds of tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, a material used in fertilizers, detonated in the port.

“The state has no right to refrain from the Lebanese investigation and also to prevent an international investigation,” Cardinal Bechara Rai, head of Lebanon’s largest Maronite Catholic church, said Thursday during a special prayer for the victims.

Some of the marchers made a brief stop in front of the French embassy to urge France, Lebanon’s former colonial power, to ask the UN Human Rights Council to send a fact-finding mission to investigate the explosion.

Official correspondence between political, security and judicial officials has revealed that many were aware of the dangerous substances stored in the port, without taking significant steps to remove them.

After the blast, port, customs and legal documents revealed that the ammonium nitrate had been shipped to Lebanon in 2013 on a worn-out Russian ship and improperly stored in a port warehouse ever since.

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