The Mercury News
Grieving and angry, Lebanese mark year since horrific blast
BEIRUT >> United in grief and anger, families of the victims and several thousand Lebanese on Wednesday marked one year since the horrific explosion at Beirut’s port with a moment of silence and prayers at the foot of the silos that was shredded by the blast on that fateful day.
A few blocks away, groups of protesters hurled stones and Molotov cocktails and clashed with security forces near Parliament, which they accuse of blocking the investigation into the port blast by refusing to lift immunity of senior politicians implicated in negligence that led to the explosion. Police responded with water cannons and volleys of tear gas.
The grim anniversary came amid an unprecedented economic and financial meltdown, and a political stalemate that has kept the country without a functioning government for a full year.
“We have to call for justice and we have to stand together, all of us together as one people, next to the families, to really ask for truth and justice,” said Nada Hjeily whose close friend died in the blast.
The explosion killed at least 214 people, according to official records, injured and maimed thousands and devastated entire neighborhoods of the Lebanese capital.
It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history — the result of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate igniting after a fire broke out. The explosion tore through the city with such force, it caused a tremor across the entire country that was heard and felt as far away as the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, more than 180 miles away.
It soon emerged in documents that the highly combustible nitrates had been haphazardly stored at a port warehouse alongside other flammable material since 2014, and that mul
tiple high-level officials over the years knew of its presence and did nothing.
A year later, there has been no accountability, and the investigation has yet to answer questions such as who ordered the shipment of the chemicals and why officials ignored repeated internal warnings of their danger.
Several thousand people gathered at various locations in Beirut on Wednesday, chanting slogans against the country’s political class widely blamed for the port disaster
and years of corruption and mismanagement that plunged Lebanon into bankruptcy. They all marched toward the port.
Protesters converged on the highway that snakes around the port, covering the streets with a sea of Lebanese flags and walking up and down the bridges over the motorway. Families of the victims walked down the road parallel to the explosion site, carrying posters with photographs of their loved ones. The crowds lined up on both sides broke out in applause, in a show of support and respect.
They then held a memorial and prayers inside the port, which still holds the ruins of the giant silos. Names of each of the killed were read out. A huge metal gavel with the words “Act for Justice” was placed on a wall opposite the port.