Emmergency in Lebanon - Hadrien, volunteer in Beirut, testifies to the explosion as he lived it.

EN - Saturday, 08 August 2020

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"We were finishing our day which until then had been fairly standard. I wanted to do some grocery shopping and then I went to our friend Rabih who runs a mini-market in the neighbourhood about a hundred meters from our building.

After 15 minutes at the store counter chatting about this and that, Rabih tells me that a curfew has just been put in place as the coronavirus crisis escalates. A bit disappointed to see the country reconfining itself, I went out to grab a can from the stall in front of the entrance.

A first explosion shakes the neighbourhood. We all look at each other, taken aback and scared. No one seems to understand what is going on, but everyone imagines the worst. No one is speaking because we feel that maybe it is not over.

This first explosion is followed by a low growl and we all wait, hoping the noise will wear off. We strain our ears to understand, to know if we should flee or if the danger has passed. It seems to us that the explosion came precisely from the area where we were. The convenience store shares a wall with a gas station and I immediately thought it was exploding because I couldn't see anything else that could shake the neighbourhood so badly.

15 seconds later, the is a second explosion, but this time much more powerful. The windows are blown. The silence that had established itself after the first explosion is broken by the first screams. The blast swept away everything in its path. A piece of the roof that overlooks the gas pumps crumbles right in front of Rony, a friend I was speaking with a few minutes before. The blast unsettles me.

Slightly arched to protect myself, I find myself pushed towards the window of the exploding mini-market. Filled with glass. A shelf tilts and Rabih, who had just risen from his chair, is thrown away on 3 meters. A heavy billboard hanging above the counter falls where he was 5 seconds ago. He then leaves, bleeding from the head, cut by the shards of glass in the window. I couldn't tell at the time whether he was seriously injured or not. He left for the hospital straight away. Stunned, we fail to think clearly, and everyone looks at each other with wide eyes. Fortunately, more fear than harm. Several friends present with me narrowly escaped death that day. I wasn’t affected myself. The more I think about it the more I tell myself how hard it is not to believe in providence after this.

SOS CHrétiens Orient port Beyrouth explosionThe Jean-Rémi, the head of mission, calls me. The connection is bad, and I would find out later that those few seconds had been very stressful for him. Contact ends up being established. He asks me if I can get safe where I am. A quick glance at the convenience store tells me it's wasted effort. Plus it is starting to smell gas. At this moment, Jean-Rémi, still thinks that it may be an attack. I personally don't know what to think. With the current situation in Lebanon everything seems possible to me. I glance at the gas station, hoping to find Rony well, I can't see him and I don't have time to look for him.

So I take my way back and with every step I walk on the broken glass of the buildings around me. An old man present with me at Rabih's is on the same sidewalk. He is bleeding from his nose and seems lost in thought. Considering his age, he must remember the war! The district of Aschrafieh was heavily bombed then.

Going up the street, I see a huge plume of smoke in the distance and I understand that the explosion is distant. A stranger on the sidewalk takes out his cell phone to film it for a few seconds. I vividly remember thinking, "You really don't have anything better to do than filming smoke?! Nobody cares that you saw it! ". This mania for filming everything ...

When I get to the apartment, I find it upside down. Several windows have exploded, the furniture is on the floor. Two doors are torn off and glass litters the floor. With Jean-Rémi, we go in a windowless corridor and contact the headquarters of SOS Chrétiens d’Orient in Paris. Once out of the corridor, we see from the terrace that all the windows of the neighbouring buildings have been blown out.

Soon the first information arrives and we can see videos of the explosion. Despite the damage taken, it still seems quite unreal. I don’t think we are cut out for recording this kind of information. The explanations are starting to arrive. First there is talk of a stockpile of fireworks, then of a weapons supply boat for Hezbollah. We are then told that it would be a stockpile of Hezbollah weapons which would have exploded causing the explosion of a huge supply of chemicals.

I don't know what to think, the situation is escaping me. Rony, the very one I was looking for at the gas station comes running to our house to make sure we're okay. The stairs made him breathless and we are moved that he came to check on us. It’s not the first time that he has been caring about our safety. He then advises us to leave Beirut because nobody knows what can happen.

In the street, a line of cars is appearing. Lots of people are leaving the neighbourhood. They are driving on a road covered with broken glass and from the balcony I can hear the screeching. There are also those who go to hospitals. Later that night, I think I see a loaded Pick-up with a corpse trying to make its way through traffic. With the night I will never know if I had seen correctly but it was very believable.

The phone rings a lot. Former volunteers, Lebanese friends, many are making sure that we are well. We call others too. Networks are saturated and messaging is slow. So I tried in vain to send one of our managers to see the extent of the damage in the apartment. Rony leaves and we start to tidy up a bit.

SOS Chrétiens Orient dégâts bâtimentQuickly, we grab some cans and some medicine for Antoinette, a more than half-blind elderly lady who lives in a nearby apartment building. On the road I see the old man again, surrounded by his family, staring into space. Thank God Antoinette has nothing and neither does her apartment. Her neighbours, with whom she shares a wall, were much more affected. She repeated to us several times with great enthusiasm: "Allah maé! Allah maé! (God is with me!) She kisses us several times. In the days that followed, I would try to understand the logic of all this destruction without succeeding. In some buildings, the glass balconies are all intact except one in the middle of the facade. In other buildings it is the opposite. In short, anarchy reigns.

While talking with Jean Rémi, I’m refreshing my memories. As the hours go by, I remember it better and better and I see that part of my memories have vanished even though I never thought I could forget them. I tell myself they will come back after a night's sleep.

The day ends with a final twist. We have to leave the apartment because the cloud could be toxic. Actually there is a weird smell coming from it. Once the necessary items are urgently packaged, we take the road to the mountains where friends of the association welcome us simply and warmly. A perfect welcome in the situation then. They tell us that back home, 30 minutes from Beirut, they believed the explosion had taken place nearby.

After a long discussion on the possible explanations of the drama around a casserole of butter dough with Youssef, the son of the family, we go to bed around 2am. Happy to finally be able to rest."

Hadrien, volunteer in Lebanon.



Sos chretiens d'orient provides emergency help for beirut inhabitants. For the homeless, for those who have lost everything, donate!

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