The blast damaged two vessels offloading wheat at the time of the explosion, in addition to port machinery for discharging goods and machinery within the silos. Four ships carrying 28,000 tons of wheat were also unable to offload their cargo.
Lebanon imports around 80% of its wheat – used to make the staple Arabic flatbread – making its largest port an important lifeline for the country. The port’s grain silos held about 85% of the country’s cereals.
Ahmed Hatteet, head of the wheat importers union, said the silos at the Beirut port have a capacity of 120,000 tonnes, but were almost empty at the time of the explosion.
However, Lebanon’s Minister of Economy Raoul Nehme told the state-run National News Agency the estimated 15,000 tonnes of wheat stored in the granaries had been ‘contaminated’ and was unfit for human consumption due to the presence of toxic chemicals.
He added the country has enough wheat stockpiled to last for a month-and-a-half and will begin importing more wheat through the Tripoli port.
The explosion – believed to be caused by a huge store of ammonium nitrate – tore through the capital city, killing at least 100 people and injuring more than 4,000. It was even reported to be felt in Cyprus, 125 miles away.
President Michel Aoun has called for a two-week state of emergency and said the government would release 100 billion Lebanese pounds (£50.5m) of emergency funds.
Wheat importers are set to meet with Minister Nehme to discuss the situation, while governments worldwide have offered assistance.