BEIRUT, PALESTINOW.COM — Residents on Wednesday began clearing away glass and rubble strewn across Beirut – a city left devasted by a massive explosion that ripped through the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, killing at least 135 people and injuring more than 5,000.
Elie, the owner of a restaurant in Gemmayze, a trendy residential and commercial neighbourhood near the coast that was hit hard by the blast, arrived early to see what was left.
‘I know many of my colleagues are dead, I am just trying to find what is left of their bodies so that their family can have proper funerals and burials’
-Mohamad, local firefighter
The scene looked like a war zone, but at least none of his employees were hurt, he said.
“It’s a miracle we’re still alive, many restaurants in the area are mourning their colleagues,” Elie told Middle East Eye, after taking some time to assess the level of destruction.
Those walking the streets of Gemmayze and nearby Mar Mkhayel shared the same sentiment, comparing the once-fashionable coastal area to that of a conflict zone, completely transformed by debris.
The two neighbourhoods were damaged due to their proximity to Beirut port, but everyone in the city was impacted in one way or another. Some lost loved ones, while others were still recovering from injuries.
‘Nowhere to be found’
Much like the night before, blood still soaked the floors of the American Univerity and Hotel Dieu hospitals when MEE visited the facilities the morning after the explosion.
Some people were still circling the buildings, looking for relatives missing in the blast.
Fatima had been searching desperately for her fiancée, who works at the port, since the explosion at about 6pm local time on Tuesday.
“I have contacted all of the hospitals and he is nowhere to be found,” she told MEE.
Port workers and security personnel are among the bulk of the missing.
Mohamad, one of the firefighters who hadn’t left the blast site since shortly after the explosion, told MEE that at this point, he fears he is looking for remains, rather than survivors.
“I know many of my colleagues are dead; I am just trying to find what is left of their bodies so that their families can have proper funerals and burials,” he said.
A security source with the Lebanese intelligence service, who preferred not to be identified, told MEE that it is likely many of those lost will never be recovered.
“Some of the dead will not be found, but those who were in close radius of the explosion have
evaporated,” the security source said.
About 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored at the port’s Warehouse Number 12, after being confiscated in 2014. Local sources said that a malfunction had occurred with one of the warehouse’s gates and technicians were called to fix the problem by welding. Sparks caused the warehouse to catch fire, which led to a massive explosion when the blaze hit the ammonium nitrate.
‘Death is what’s common’
MEE toured different areas in Beirut, talking with citizens who witnessed the disaster.
The buildings were heavily damaged on Hamra Street, about 10 to 15km away from the blast site. Marwan, a retail shop owner, said that at the time of the explosion, he and his neighbours thought it had occurred there, not the port, because the shockwave was felt so intensely.
‘Tuesday at 6pm, Beirut no longer had a port, but rather a new mass graveyard’
– Local journalist
The magnitude of the explosion seemed to make everyone in Beirut feel as if the blast had happened nearby.
One of Marwan’s friends, a port worker, died at the hospital after sustaining serious injuries.
“He worked in one of the shipping companies at the port. I was told he was injured, [but] when I arrived at the hospital yesterday he was declared dead,” he said.
Marwan seemed at ease talking about his friend’s death. When asked if he was still in shock, he said that was just the way in Lebanon. “It seems that in this country we only live by mistake, and death is what’s common,” he said.
One scene seemed to be repeated across the city: People cleaning glass from the streets while congratulating each other on their safety and offering condolences for the deceased.
‘A new mass graveyard’
The disaster was too big to be handled only by first responders, he said.
“While we were moving from the Gemayze to Mar Mkhayel, we were stopped by a woman, begging us to help her bring down her elderly mother who was still stuck on the 5th floor,” he said, adding that the woman had tried to call emergency teams but everyone was too busy attending to the dead and wounded.
Another journalist said that when he arrived at the scene of the blast, shortly after it had taken place, a solider warned him not to step on any bodies.
“I stopped and looked around, and I realised I was surrounded by dead bodies that were so covered by mud and soil, [that] I couldn’t [tell they were] dead bodies,” he said.
“Tuesday at 6pm, Beirut no longer had a port, but rather a new mass graveyard,” he added.