BEIRUT — Four out of 16 silos in the northern block of the Beirut port grain storage silos collapsed Sunday evening, French engineer Emmanuel Durand, who volunteered for a government-commissioned team of experts and who has been using sensors to monitor shifts in the structure, told L’Orient Today, warning that the remaining silos in the block continue to tilt at a rate requiring “minute to minute” monitoring.
“The 12 remaining [silos in the block] are still moving relatively fast and we are evaluating the situation minute to minute via the sensors still in place,” Durand said, adding that two tiltmeter sensors on the structure are working well, while a third has gone silent since Sunday's collapse. “Most likely, it has been destroyed,” Durand said.
The expert also reassured that for now the “south block is stable.”
Meanwhile, helicopters continued to fly above the Beirut port silos Sunday evening, dousing the silos, heavily damaged in the Aug. 4, 2020 blast, in water to quell a large cloud of dust that resulted from the collapse.
Concrete blocks were falling from the silos with a loud crash for at least half an hour before the collapse, a source from the Beirut fire department who was monitoring the structure at the time told L'Orient Today.
A spokesperson for the Civil Defense told L'Orient Today that the Civil Defense, the Lebanese Army, the Red Cross, General Security and firefighters are maintaining a security line at a distance of 500-650 meters from the port to prevent people from getting close to the structure.
The authorities had been warning for several days that a partial collapse was imminent, after fires repeatedly ignited over the past three weeks in the fermented grain still contained in the destroyed stores.
The environment and health ministries on Monday said that “in the case of any collapse or a partial fall [of the silos], dust that is the result of construction leftovers and some fungus from rotten grains will be released and will spread in the air.” Safety instructions were sent to the inhabitants of the surrounding districts, and on Friday the army evacuated residents of the area directly adjacent to the port.
The Lebanese Red Cross handed out protective face masks in the surrounding areas late last week and advised inhabitants and businesses to keep windows closed to protect against airborne debris from the collapse; however, the Civil Defense spokesperson L'Orient Today spoke to immediately after the collapse said that the resultant dust was still contained and had not yet affected nearby residential areas, while reports from the scene an hour after the collapse said there was very little dust in the air.
However, according to Charbel Afif, head of the chemistry department at Saint Joseph University and an air pollution expert, "even though the bulk of the dust is no longer visible, there are still particles in the air that could affect those who suffer from respiratory problems, as well as the elderly or vulnerable." Afif added though that there is no need to panic, “just keep the windows closed and clean the living or working place Monday morning with bleach.”
Forces of Change MP Najat Aoun Saliba commended the management of the dust Sunday evening, saying — maskless — from the port that "there's no need for people to wear masks" as "the readiness on the ground was clear and the dust was removed quickly." Saliba is also an air pollution expert and is well known for her academic work at the Environment Academy at the American University of Beirut.
Commenting on the risk of the structure's further collapse, Saliba later told L'Orient Today that "the entire northern part has a big risk of collapsing, and this leaves us with the southern part to preserve as a witness to the crime," referring to the Aug. 4 explosion. Many, including the families of the blast's victims, have strongly opposed a government decision, made prior to the recent heightened risk of collapse, to demolish the silos, contending that tearing down the silos would risk the destruction of evidence relevant to the explosion as well as the collective memory of the blast.
Before the army cleared the area of onlookers at about 7 p.m., scores of people parked along the road above the port to take pictures following the collapse.
Zaynab Sidani, 63, told L'Orient Today that she had come to the scene to "witness more of the pain caused by the politicians." She said she lives in Burj Hammoud and was in her house at the time of the catastrophic explosion two years ago that left more than 200 people dead, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the city. She is dreading the two-year anniversary of the blast, especially as the silos are now collapsing, she said.
BEIRUT — Four out of 16 silos in the northern block of the Beirut port grain storage silos collapsed Sunday evening, French engineer Emmanuel Durand, who volunteered for a government-commissioned team of experts and who has been using sensors to monitor shifts in the structure, told L’Orient Today, warning that the remaining silos in the block continue to tilt at a rate requiring “minute...