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Grain silo damaged in Port of Beirut explosion

An explosion at the Port of Beirut on Aug. 4 that killed an estimated 100 people and injured nearly 4,000 significantly damaged a grain facility at the port that stores 85% of Lebanon’s cereals and a nearby flour mill, Reuters reported.

The explosion is believed to have been caused by a fire in a warehouse that was storing 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate for the last six years without any safety precautions, Reuters reported, citing Michel Aoun, the president of Lebanon. What started the initial fire is still unknown.

The explosion caused significant damage to the Beirut Port Silos, which have total grain storage capacity of 120,000 tonnes. The silos consist of 48 big cells with a capacity of 2,500 tonnes per cell, 50 small cells with a capacity of 500 tonnes per cell and a suction speed of 600 tonnes per hour. Damage to the silos could be seen in news photos as well as piles of spilled grain.

In addition to damaging the country’s national wheat silos, the blast also damaged two ships that were off loading wheat at the time of the explosion and a nearby flour mill, Al-Akhbar, a local newspaper reported.

Patricia Bakalian, chief executive officer of the Bakalian Flour Mills, told the local newspaper, “the mill is not really okay, but we can deal with it tomorrow.” She said a damage assessment of the mill would be conducted.

Kinglsy Ambrose, PhD, a grain dust explosion specialist who is an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University, told World Grain it appears that a secondary grain dust explosion did not occur at the port. He noted that the grain silos, while damaged, were still standing following the blast.

“From the preliminary reports it seems that ammonium nitrate is the sole fuel,” he said. “Grain dust would have damaged the silos completely.”

The port conducts 60% of Lebanon’s imports and about 85% of the country’s cereals are stored in the Beirut Port Silos, according to Mena Commodities.

It is estimated that 15,000 tonnes of wheat was being stored at the Beirut Port Silos at the time of the explosion. It was perhaps fortunate that a relatively small amount of grain was stored in the silo at the time of the blast.

Ambrose noted that “it can be assumed that a full bin may contain a higher amount of dust than an empty silo.”

Raoul Nehme, Lebanon’s economy minister, told Reuters the country has less than a month’s reserve of grain. A reserve of at least three months is needed to ensure food security for Lebanon. He said there is not a bread or flour crisis, but the main concern is alternative storage for wheat.

The Port of Tripoli, the second largest port in Lebanon, does not have grain storage facilities but incoming wheat could be transferred to warehouses for storage about a mile away, Reuters said, citing Ahmed Hattit, the head of the wheat importers union.