BEIRUT -- As Lebanon prepares to mark the second anniversary of the Beirut port explosion on Thursday (August 4), the impact of the blast is still being felt, with some remaining silos collapsing and victims' families' grief unresolved.
Sections of the port's remaining grain silos collapsed on Sunday in a cloud of dust, amid controversy over whether the remaining silos should stand as a reminder of the 2020 catastrophe or be razed as times move on.
Meanwhile, the families of those who lost their lives in the blast said they would continue to demand justice for their loved ones, amid a stalled investigation that has been frustrating and fruitless thus far.
Family members told Al-Mashareq they intend to work to expose those who have obstructed the investigation, and will be calling on the international community to help identify those responsible for the catastrophe.
International help is vital to obtaining justice, they said, pointing out that the Lebanese government stopped Judge Tarek al-Bitar from completing an investigation into the blast.
The explosion at the port killed at least 217 people and injured thousands of others, damaging buildings within a 10-mile radius of the blast.
The military police initially took over the investigation into the incident, later continued by judicial investigator Fadi Sawan and eventually by al-Bitar.
The investigation was suspended following litigation submitted by three former ministers who had been charged in connection with the incident: Lebanese MPs Ghazi Zuaiter and Ali Hassan al-Khalil and Lebanese politician Youssef Fenianos.
Some of the victims' families have said they intend to file personal claims against the three men and a number of others, pointing to new findings.
Grain silos collapse
A cloud of dust covered the port following the partial collapse on Sunday of the remaining grain silos, where a fire has been burning for more than two weeks, AFP reported.
Army helicopters doused the area with water to try to put out the blaze.
"Two towers have collapsed so far, and another two are in danger of collapsing," in the heavily damaged silos' northern section, said Public Works Minister Ali Hamieh.
The silos had absorbed much of the impact of the August 4, 2020, mega-blast, shielding much of the city's west from the devastating explosion, caused by haphazardly stored ammonium nitrate fertiliser catching fire.
Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati last week warned they could fall.
Fire broke out at the silos on July 8, caused by fermentation of remaining grain stocks along with soaring summer temperatures, according to authorities.
The government in April ordered their demolition due to safety concerns, but that move was suspended amid objections, including from relatives of blast victims who want the silos preserved as a memorial site.
Attorney Pierre Gemayel, whose brother Jacques was killed in the explosion, said he does not rule out the possibility that the fire was ignited on the heels of parliament's June 26 refusal to expedite the approval of a related bill.
If approved, the bill would protect the remaining silos from demolition until the end of the investigation, and would designate them as part of a national monument to commemorate the tragedy of August 4, 2020.
"There appears to be an intent to demolish the silos, because the fire was never put out after it reignited a day after it was initially extinguished," he told Al-Mashareq.
"We are in a country with no law, no justice, no responsibility and no accountability," he said. "We have been fighting for the truth for two years, and they want to silence us by force."
"The investigation has been suspended for seven months, and there is no hope of it being completed. This calls for an international investigation," he said.
"I hope the Lebanese judiciary will give us the truth," he added. "But no one has the courage to say what happened."
The Lebanese investigation into the blast has faced systematic and blatant political obstruction from day one.
William Noun, who lost his brother Joe in the blast, told Al-Mashareq the victims' families demand justice and plan to expose those who are obstructing the investigation.
He said the families have learned that Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who heads the Amal movement, have attempted to obstruct the investigation by filing claims against al-Bitar.
Their protection of the three accused politicians and their attempts to go after the judicial investigator confirm their involvement, he said.
Noun said he plans to file a personal complaint against 25 individuals who he claims "facilitated the entrances of the ammonium nitrate to the port" or "who signed the documents that allowed the ship to enter".
"The complaint also will include personnel from the military police intelligence who knew about the ammonium nitrate's presence in the port and who sent the correspondence, but did not take any action to avoid the disaster," Noun said.
The families of the victims are working methodically to find out the truth, he added, including communication with the United Nations Human Rights Office and other individuals and entities.
Hayat Abu Chakra, who lost her son Shadi Abu Chakra to the explosion, demanded justice for him and for all other victims.
"Only then will I stop mourning," she told Al-Mashareq. "My deaf-mute son wrestled with death for 24 hours, which ultimately defeated him under the rubble of three floors."
"To this day I wonder how much he suffered," she said, adding, "Those who caused the explosions have no conscience."
She hopes al-Bitar will complete the investigation, "because the truth must emerge despite attempts to obscure it," she said.
"Meanwhile, I talk to Shadi and tell him he is lucky to be up in heaven."