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Beirut fire: Firefighters put out new blaze in Lebanon capital, shattering residents

Reuters/AFP/Beirut
Filed on September 15, 2020
fire, Beirut, Zaha Hadid, building, shatters, residents
Lebanese firefighters douse the flames of a blaze that engulfed a landmark modern building, designed by the late world-renowned British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, in central Beirut on September 15, 2020

(AFP)

There were no immediate reports of casualties at a landmark building designed by the practice set up by the late Zaha Hadid, the renowned British-Iraqi architect.

A fire erupted in a landmark building in Beirut's commercial district on Tuesday, the second blaze this month to send shudders through a capital still in shock after a massive port blast in August ripped through the Mediterranean city.

There were no immediate reports of casualties and the blaze was quickly extinguished, but it left residents exasperated in a nation that has been hammered by a deep economic crisis and which is waiting for its politicians to form a new government.

"It's terrible. It's unbelievable," said Joe Sayegh, 48, who had been on a jog through the city before coming to the scene. "Every day we have a problem."

Fire trucks quickly doused the flames that charred a corner of the futuristic building designed by the practice set up by the late Zaha Hadid, the renowned British-Iraqi architect.

The building near the seafront and its curved lines have become a prominent feature of the central commercial area rebuilt after the 1975-1990 civil war.

Solidere, the company set up to reconstruct Beirut, said initial findings indicated the fire in the building, which has been under construction for years, was caused by an accident.

During rebuilding of Lebanon's capital, skyscrapers designed by international architects have gone up and historical Ottoman-era buildings have been renovated.

But protests during an economic crisis that was caused by a mountain of debt had already driven many businesses out of the city centre and left many buildings scarred even before the August 4 port blast ruined another swathe of the capital.

The government resigned after the port blast, which was blamed on highly explosive ammonium nitrate kept in poor storage conditions for years. This month, a big port fire flared up among the ruined warehouses, adding to the devastation.

France is pressing Lebanon to form a new government to tackle endemic corruption and implement reforms to unlock aid. But many Lebanese remain sceptical the country's political elite can chart a new course.

"With these people, if they are the same people, nothing will change," Sayegh said.

Footage shared on social media showed black clouds of smoke billowing off of bright red flames that climbed up the side of the curvaceous building with latticed covering.

AFP reporters at the scene saw firefighters use a crane to aim water hoses at its smouldering facade.

"What was on fire was the insulation that separates the outside from the inside" of the building, a civil defence officer told AFP.

"We were able in the fastest time possible to control" the blaze, he said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the fire.

Both the explosion and port fires have revived popular outrage against a political class accused of being inept, corrupt and unable to ensure public safety.

Preliminary government findings said sparks from a power saw could have caused Thursday's blaze, echoing a theory that welding was also behind the August 4 explosion.

On Tuesday, local social media users speculated the cause of the new fire could also be welding.

Theatre director Yahya Jaber on Facebook expressed alarm at what he described as "Beirut's pre-imagined, pre-designed and pre-welded assassination".

Hadid, who died in 2016 at age 65, was famed for her architectural works of sweeping curves in countries around the world. 

She was the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize for architecture, and best known for her designs for the Guangzhou Opera House in China and the aquatics centre used in the 2012 London Olympics.


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