Don’t forget the people of Beirut…
It had just turned 6:07pm local time on August 4, 2020 – a date and time which may seem insignificant to some, but for the people of Beirut it will be forever etched in their memories as the moment when one of the largest-ever peacetime explosions rocked Lebanon.
A blast this time not caused by warfare or terrorist attack, but by 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate stored in the port which ignited and tore through the city killing hundreds and injuring thousands.
Used as the main ingredient in fertilizer bombs, the highly dangerous amount of ammonium nitrate detonated when a fire sparked by a welder spread to the warehouse where it had been stored for six years. A fact which pushed the people onto the streets to protest the incompetence of the government and their handling of the situation.
Sure enough, people power triumphed when yesterday it was announced that the Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab would step down amid pressure from locals, the media and from abroad. But this victory is mired by the fact that so many have lost their lives, lost their homes and are still in a state of shock. One week on and the people of Beirut are still suffering.
“The Lebanese people are still traumatized by the explosion. Now, a simple door slapping is sufficient to cause panic. Our feelings of grief are mixed with feelings of anger about the corruption and neglect that have led to this horrible accident,” Dr. Elie Khoury tells uncancelled. “As a doctor, the night of August 4 was like nothing I had ever seen before – hundreds of people rushed to the hospital, some with their loved ones, others not knowing whether their loved ones were dead or alive. Hospitals cared selflessly for all the injured patients out of their own expense,” he added.
Meanwhile, Dr. Chadi Murr from the Lebanese American University Medical Centre said that on the day of the explosion, the emergency room was a mess and it was hard to cope with the sheer number of casualties. “On a normal day, we can accommodate 12 patients, during the blast we received 500. Most of them were shattered glass injuries or glass cuts. We started suturing the patients with deep lacerations and for those with skin staples, we would do an aesthetic plastic surgery if we could,” he said.
“The next day, we were also seeing patients that needed suturing. We were suturing for two consecutive days. And now we expect to see patients with scars that will need reconstructive surgeries within four to six months. We are still receiving patients because all the volunteers are working on the streets clearing and recycling glass, so glass cuts are the most common cause of injuries,” he added.
Even before last week’s devastating blast, the capital’s streets were lined with empty restaurants and closed shops. The economy had gone bust and people were struggling to survive. Can the people of Lebanon take much more?
The death toll has reached 220 and rising while streets, homes and houses are still in desperate need of rebuilding. Aid and medical supplies are running out – reports of international aid gone missing and rejected from Lebanon’s neighbours are rife and the people have come to the end of their tether.
“This comes at a time when the Lebanese people are still coping with the economic crisis that has caused the Lebanese pound to lose over 60 percent of its value and for people to lose most of their savings. As Lebanese citizens, the current situation has left us with no other option but to seek immigration in order to provide for ourselves as well as help the rest of our families that don’t have the means to leave Lebanon,” Dr. Khoury added.
For those who remain, saying it’s tough is an understatement. Not only are they dealing with the clean-up operation but must also come to terms with what has happened and to try and move forward somehow.
“I feel I am living through PTSD. I keep on remembering what happened, how I flew in a black cloud. Physically, my back is hurt, my head hurts, and I have wounds on my legs. I wish everyone injured a fast recovery. Hopefully, we will find all the lost people, and I wish anyone who lost anything because of this explosion well, and of course I hope all those who died will rest in peace. May God save us all from this horrific tragedy,” said Anthony Merchak, a 30-year-old filmmaker who works with MTV (Murr Television).
I, myself, lived in the Middle East for nearly six years in total and a significant amount of that time was spent in Beirut. I lived in Achrafieh for a while, then spent nearly a year living in the heart of Hamra. One of the friends I met there was PR supremo and TV presenter Tara Sillery. We often spent time at the rooftop pool at Le Grey (severely damaged by the blast) and in the downtown area at the many bars and restaurants – all no more.
“As an Irish expat who lived in the region for many years, my heart is absolutely broken beyond comprehension. August 4, 2020 has forever changed the lives of so many across the globe. It will also change me as I don’t think I have ever felt such heartbreak,” said Sillery.
“When asked to explain my loyalty to this very corrupt country, I say that if it wasn’t for the people of Lebanon, I would not be who I am today. I am blessed to have such an amazing circle of Lebanese friends, many of whom have become family. I have nothing but love for this cultured and diverse country and my loyalty will be even STRONGER after this.
“Despite this country being broken so many times, the Lebanese people know how to unite and love. Despite there being a huge divide between rich and poor they STILL know how to share. Despite their electricity going off for hours during the day they still know how to live carefree lives. I have so many examples of “despite” to be honest, but I have such a heavy heart I would like to focus on the positivity of the people and by the end of today I HOPE that the disgusting corrupt government will all have dissolved,” Sillery concludes.
Photo credit: The aftermath of the Beirut explosion (BBC)