Beirut port begins slow recovery

Beirut port begins slow recovery
French soldiers carry boxes as they they work with Lebanese soldiers at the site of the Aug. 4 deadly blast in the port of Beirut that killed scores and wounded thousands in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 27 August 2020

Beirut port begins slow recovery

Beirut port begins slow recovery
  • UNESCO director-general visits affected heritage sites and pledges assistance

BEIRUT: Ziad Bekdash, vice-president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists, said on Thursday that “90 percent” of Lebanese exports are once again passing through Beirut port, less than a month after the devastating explosion that destroyed huge areas of the port and the surrounding residential neighborhoods. He credited the port administration and the Lebanese army with enabling the resumption of export operations.

The Internal Security Forces (ISF) said there are no further partial remains to submit for comparison by the Scientific Investigation Department following the blast, but that three people are still missing.

Col. Youssef Haidar, commander of the heavy work regiment in the Lebanese army, which is responsible for removing debris from the port, said: “The area in which we are carrying out the work is divided into two: a green area, where rubble is being removed, and a red area, which is the investigation area, so we are not working in it.”

He continued: “There are no more body parts or missing people in the green area. We do not know if there is a possibility that there is something in the red area.”

Haidar estimated that around 7,800 tons of rubble has so far been shifted by his team, but it has not yet been removed from the port, as the Ministry of Environment and the European Union are currently conducting a study into how best to handle this landfill. However, the roads inside the port are now clear, he said, and around 10 tons of goods are being inventoried by customs and returned to their owners.

“The port is currently operating at 30 percent of its capacity, and (that) is expected to rise to 45 percent by next week,” Haidar said.

Haidar and his team have been assisted by 400 French soldiers, who also provided 150 vehicles. Next week, 80 Italian soldiers are scheduled to arrive, along with more vehicles, to help clean up the green area.

Meanwhile, as part of international efforts to rebuild damaged schools in Beirut, UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay inspected a number of schools in Beirut’s Gemmayzeh and Achrafieh districts. She also inspected heritage buildings that were destroyed or severely damaged by the explosion.

Azoulay said nearly 85,000 students in Lebanon have been affected by the damage caused by the blast, at a time when the education sector was already experiencing difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She stressed that rebuilding schools is a priority. “UNESCO will cooperate with the local authorities to develop a plan and secure funding to rebuild the schools affected by the explosion,” she said. “We will support the educational sector in general.”

In a statement issued by the UNESCO media office, Azoulay said: “The Lebanese people can count on UNESCO's support in mobilizing all actors and helping preserve the rich cultural life and heritage of Beirut. I will ensure that education and culture are a central part of reconstruction efforts, and that special attention is given to the most vulnerable.”

Azoulay met Lebanese President Michel Aoun and — according to Aoun’s media office— stressed the importance of contributing to the reconstruction of damaged heritage sites, in order to protect the cultural history of the capital city, and said that UNESCO will cooperate in the rebuilding process.

“There is a great need for the international community to support Lebanon, not only in the humanitarian aspect, but also in the developmental one,” Aoun said in a statement. “Lebanon will not be able to recover without the support of the international community.”