Weedah Hamzah –
Beirut resident Nabil Houssami is still traumatised by the memory of the explosion that struck his city exactly a month ago. Within just a few seconds of the blast on August 4 at 6:07 pm, Houssami lost his apartment, his nearby fashion boutique, as well as his father’s shipping office in Beirut port.
“I will never forget that moment,” Houssami said. His flat is on the 24th floor of Beirut’s famous modern-design Skyline building, which has a direct view over the sea port where the explosion took place. It now looks like it was struck by a hurricane. The facade is damaged. Shards of glass are scattered across his living room floor. Doors and furniture are ripped apart.
Luckily, Houssami was not badly injured, even though he was on the balcony of his flat, filming what he then thought was simply a large fire at the port. He survived the massive explosion that devastated the Lebanese capital’s port and surrounding area, killing at least 190 people. Some are still missing, but not all hope has been lost of finding survivors. Rescuers are still looking for a possible survivor after detecting a sign of life on Thursday. The blast, caused by the detonation of nearly 2,700 tonnes of ammoniumnitrate stored at Beirut’s port, brought back dark memories of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.
“I am usually an optimistic person, but now I have regrets as I was living outside Lebanon and came believing I can build a future here,”said Houssami, 40. “Now I have a feeling of regret, doubt and uncertainty,” he added, choking up as he spoke. “I am just heartbroken.”
The blast caused serious or minor damage to buildings across one third of the Lebanese capital and displaced some 300,000 people. One of them, Doris Tobagi lost her family home in the Mar Michael district, which is just a short distance from the port. “I lost all my beautiful memories and the home that my grandfather built in 1898. I have nothing left,” Tobagi said with tears welling up in her eyes.
The blast struck an exhausted nation, wracked by a deep financial crisis and worsening political instability. For Tobagi, the blast destroyed her final hope for Lebanon to rise to its feet again. “I lost faith in this country, only a miracle can revive it (the country),” the 60-year-old said. “I came today to collect what is left of my beautiful memories and put them in boxes,” said Tobagi, who is now living with relatives outside Beirut.
The powerful explosion transformed Beirut port into a desert of twisted steel and damaged cars. It also hit residential areas known for their old and captivating architecture. Bars and restaurants in nearby streets hosted the bustling nightlife of Beirut, but this too has been obliterated. The explosion has deepened an already wide rift between the ruling class and Lebanese citizens who denounce rampant corruption and what they say is government incompetence. Residents of areas where the blast hit the hardest have so far refused to allow visits by any state officials, kicking them out if they come to inspect the damage. Civil society groups and charities are therefore leading efforts to clear the rubble and rebuild the ruined sites.
Maroun Karam, 29, is an activist and co-founder of the non-governmental organisation “Baytna Baytak,” or “Our home is your home” in Arabic. Karam and other volunteers have set up a makeshift centre at a bus station in Mar Mikhael district to help people rebuild their lives. “We have people here who distribute food daily to families that were hard hit by the explosion. We have doctors to meet their demands and also — and this the main part — engineers and architects to help repair their houses,” Karam said.
His group has mainly depended on public donations. He said they have so far repaired 200 houses out of the 1,000 which they have assessed. “Some 4,000 houses in areas directly around the port have been hit, 70 per cent of them suffered medium damage, such as losing glass windows, doors and shutters. We have 30 per cent which have major structural damage,” Karam explained. — dpa
Karam refuses to get any support from the government. Even if it offered help, Karam would turn it down: “No way” he said, shaking his head. Karam himself lost his apartment. Together with friends in a similar situation, they have vowed to continue protesting to overthrow “the corrupt ruling class.” He has been out on the streets since October last year when anti-government protests gripped Beirut. “To them, we say: we are here to stay and change will come,” he said confidently. — dpa