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Beirut locals still search for answers two years after port explosion

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By Mario Bowden
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Paul Naggear, stands next a portrait of his daughter Alexandra, who was killed in 2020 massive blast at Beirut's seaport
Paul Naggear, stands next a portrait of his daughter Alexandra, who was killed in 2020 massive blast at Beirut's seaport   -   Copyright  Hassan Ammar/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Today, Beirut is marking the second anniversary of the massive explosion that wrecked its port, in which the silos became a symbol of struggling to cope.

The grain silo in question is still present down at the port. Officials could not demolish it in a controlled manner, meaning today it still lies there. And just last week, part of the 48-meter-long warehouse collapsed in on itself – due to a fire that has been ongoing for a month

The incident

On August 4th, 2020, explosive materials were left unsafely stored in the grain silos. First, there was a fire. From afar it looked out of control. According to reports the fire started by workers welding a door in the warehouse.

Locals from their apartments looked on, filming the billowing smoke that rose from the downtown port. What happened next would change their lives forever.

Sitting unguarded, the materials were set alight. The powerful blast that followed was the result of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate coming into contact with the fire. A gigantic explosion followed that shook the entire city.

Hassan Ammar/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
General view of grain silos at Beirut port, Lebanon, Friday, July 22, 2022.Hassan Ammar/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Suddenly, those same locals filming from afar were now at the heart of the destruction. The erupted blast traveled outwards – destroying hundreds of homes and apartments instantly.

Approximately 200 people lost their lives, more than six thousand people were injured and 300 thousand people were displaced due to the explosion.

No Justice

Two years on the country remains devastated by the tragedy, with apartment blocks still not fixed. It has also affected many families who lost their loved ones. Investigations into the blast are close to non-existent – with many Lebanese accusing politicians of "complicity" for failing to hold anyone accountable for the blast.

Lebanese MP and lawyer Melhem Khalaf had filed a complaint against the Lebanese state on behalf of a collective of victims. But all attempts to get an investigation were suspended.

Hussein Malla/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
A relative of a victim of the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion holds a portrait of her loved one who killed during the explosion, during a vigilHussein Malla/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

"[They] plunged this case into political disputes, and turned the demand for the truth into a subjective matter, each one contesting it. Politicians must lift their hand off the judiciary so that it can first achieve the rights, and then the justice," Khalaf said.

The blast is widely seen by Lebanese as a symbol of negligence, corruption, and bad governance by a ruling elite that had already steered the country into a devastating financial collapse. The outlook for the country remains low due to soaring food and energy prices.  

The Beirut explosion in 2020 continues to haunt Lebanese society, with a community no closer to finding an answer.