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Hashash participates in team collecting data on Port of Beirut explosion

2/9/2021 2:13:08 PM

Ground zero at the Port of Beirut, Lebanon, and the severely damaged grain silos in the aftermath of the Aug 4, 2020 explosion. Courtesy of Sadek et. al (2021) GEER report
Ground zero at the Port of Beirut, Lebanon, and the severely damaged grain silos in the aftermath of the Aug 4, 2020 explosion. Courtesy of Sadek et. al (2021) GEER report

A devastating explosion rocked the Port of Beirut in Lebanon on Aug. 4, 2020, when improperly stored ammonium nitrate detonated. Some 190 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured. Soon after, Illinois CEE professor Youssef Hashash joined a rapid-response team to evaluate the damage and gather critical, perishable data on the performance of the port and other structures in the city. The team, working under the National Science Foundation-supported Geotechnical Extreme Event Reconnaissance (GEER) Association, released its report February 5, the six-month anniversary of the explosion.

In responding to disasters, GEER teams normally deploy quickly to the affected area to gather data in person. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, this reconnaissance was unusual in several respects. Travel from outside of Lebanon was not feasible. Initial fieldwork by colleagues at the American University of Beirut included data gathering on the performance of structures, while also helping concerned building owners assess the stability of their buildings. In-person inspections quickly became challenging, if not impossible, to perform, and the emphasis turned to collecting and analyzing street-view imagery.

Youssef Hashash
Youssef Hashash

The GEER team included a diverse cross section of expertise including geotechnical and structural engineering, remote sensing, urban planning and geomatics. They hope the data that was gathered and preserved will spur further research. Future planned activities include evaluation of satellite remote sensing techniques for rapid assessment of post-disaster damage to infrastructure, says Hashash.

In addition to Hashash, team members included Salah Sadek, Mayssa Dabaghi and Imad Elhajj, Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, American University of Beirut, Lebanon; Paolo Zimmaro, University of Calabria, Italy; Sang-Ho Yun, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; and Timothy M. O’Donnell and Jonathan P. Stewart, University of California, Los Angeles.