Silos damaged in 2020 Beirut port explosion partly collapse after fire

Silos damaged in 2020 Beirut port explosion partly collapse after fire

Blaze caused by fermenting grains had been smouldering for weeks, with people told to stay indoors

A section of the huge grain silos at Beirut’s port, shredded in the 2020 explosion in the Lebanese capital, collapsed on Sunday after a weeks-long fire triggered by grains that had fermented and ignited in the summer heat.

The northern block of the silos fell in a huge cloud of dust after what sounded like an explosion. It was not immediately clear if anyone was injured.

The 50-year-old silos, which once had a capacity of more than 100,000 tonnes and stand 48 metres (158ft) high, withstood the force of the explosion two years ago, shielding the western part of Beirut from the blast that killed more than 200 people, wounded more than 7,000 and badly damaged entire neighbourhoods.

In July, a fire broke out in the northern block of the silos due to fermenting grains. Firefighters and soldiers were unable to put out the fire, which continue smouldering for weeks, with the smell spreading to nearby cities. The environment and health ministries issued instructions last week to people living near the port to stay indoors in well-ventilated spaces.

Emmanuel Durand, a French civil engineer who volunteered for a government-commissioned team of experts, told the Associated Press that the northern block of the silo had been tipping since the day of the 2020 blast, but the fire has weakened its frail structure, accelerating its collapse.

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The government in April ordered the demolition of the silos due to safety concerns, but the move has since been suspended amid objections, including from relatives of blast victims who want the silos preserved as a memorial site.

The Lebanese investigation into the blast has faced systemic and blatant political obstruction from day one.