Part of Beirut’s port silos collapse on second anniversary of massive explosion

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Part of the silos collapses

A large section of Beirut’s giant port grain silos, which were shredded by a massive explosion two years ago, have collapsed as hundreds marched in the city to mark the second anniversary of the blast that killed nearly 220 people.

The northern block of the silos consisting of four towers had been slowly tilting for days and collapsed, causing a huge cloud of dust that covered the structure that shielded Beirut’s western neighbourhoods when the blast occurred on August 4 2020.

The explosion also injured more than 6,000 people and caused damage worth billions of pounds.

Thursday’s collapse of roughly a quarter of the structure occurred an hour before hundreds of people were to gather outside the facility to mark the second anniversary of the blast.

Smoke and dust rise over the city

Authorities evacuated parts of the port earlier this week — after an initial section of the silos collapsed on Sunday — as a precautionary measure and there was no indication that anyone was hurt.

The 50-year-old, 157ft tall silos had withstood the force of the explosion two years ago that destroyed much of the port.

Many in Lebanon, including families of the victims, have been demanding that the silos be kept for future generations to witness the result of one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, caused by widespread corruption and mismanagement in the small Mediterranean nation.

The domestic investigation into the blast has been stalled since December following legal challenges by charged and accused officials against the judge leading the investigation.

Hundreds of people, including families of the victims, marched from three locations in Beirut towards the main road outside the port to mark the blast on Thursday. Some carried white coffins while others carried gallows demanding punishment for those responsible.

“Two years later the pain is still the same,” said one of the family members whose brother was killed.

Two years on, none of the country’s top politicians have apologised to the Lebanese.

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

But none of them have been detained and two of those charged were re-elected to parliament in May.

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

Smoke rises from part of the collapsed silos

Many have blamed the Lebanese government’s longtime corruption and mismanagement, saying it paved way for the tragedy, when hundreds of tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate detonated at the port.

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

Official correspondence between political, security and judicial officials has revealed that many were aware of the hazardous substances stored in the port, without taking meaningful action 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 stored improperly at a port warehouse ever since.

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