New fire at Beirut port causes panic among citizens already reeling from blasts

Workers at Beirut’s port fled the giant fire that began September 10 in a warehouse containing motor oil and tires. (Screengrabs of a video posted on Twitter).
Workers at Beirut’s port fled the giant fire that began September 10 in a warehouse containing motor oil and tires. (Screengrabs of a video posted on Twitter).

Just over a month after a deadly double explosion devastated the port of Beirut, a new fire raged in a warehouse at the port on September 10. One of our Observers told us about the panic that took hold with residents in the Lebanese capital, who feared a repeat of last month's disaster.

Lebanon is still reeling from the double explosions in August that began when fire spread to a warehouse containing 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which had been stored there for the past six years. The explosions devastated large swathes of the Lebanese capital, killed at least 192 people, injured 6,500 and left a further 300,000 homeless.

When reports of the new fire in a port warehouse surfaced on Thursday, September 10, many took to social media to express their concerns about port management and safety. The port's interim director, Bassem al-Kaissi, said the fire began with motor oil cans stocked in the warehouse before spreading to tires.

"A fire in the Beirut port… it’s Part 3 of a thriller [After the August fire, there was another fire on September 8]. Of course, we’ve opened the windows and are sheltering in the corridors, between rooms," commented one social media user on a video showing port employees fleeing the fire.

"My mother called me and begged me to go to Mount Lebanon”

Mario Am, 40, is a web developer and activist. He lives in the Achrafieh neighborhood, about one kilometre from the port in eastern Beirut. He started a Twitter thread showing videos of what happened from the start of the fire to when firefighters arrived on the scene.

Both his home and office were partially damaged during the explosion on August 4. Am said that he just had a feeling that something like that would happen again:

Around 1:10pm, I was walking along the street in a residential area when people started pointing out a cloud of smoke coming from somewhere near the port. People immediately panicked. A few actually moved towards the port to see what was happening. Others were terrified and started to call friends and family to tell them to open their windows so they wouldn’t explode.

Everyone was afraid; it was like a flashback to the explosion on August 4. Lebanese people haven’t recovered from the trauma of that incident yet. After a few minutes, I got a call from my mother who said that she had seen the cloud of smoke and wanted me to go to Mount Lebanon [a mountain range in eastern Lebanon] for safety.

Two days ago, there was another small fire near the port and I just had this feeling that the worst was yet to come. I have no confidence in the government any more – all of that is their responsibility.

According to the Lebanese Red Cross, there was no risk of an explosion. By the late afternoon, the fire seemed under control and there was no longer a risk of it spreading, according to the daily newspaper L'Orient-Le Jour. The outgoing justice minister called on the attorney general to immediately open an investigation into the incident.

Article written by Omar Tiss