Shattered stories from Beirut blast

Shattered. Crushed. Crumbled. Pulverized.

That’s Beirut after a capital-wide explosion that even Cyprus felt, more than 200 kilometres across the sea. As a result of the blast of August 4, more than 100* people have died and 4000+* were rushed to hospitals. 300,000 are now left without a home. The early estimate is up to 4.2 billion USD* in economic loss.

*Update: more than 210 people have died, 7500+ were injured and the later estimate of economic loss surpassed 12 billion USD.

Digging through the rubble. Bodies lost at sea. Families searching for their loved ones. Thousands of wounded rushing to hospitals. People screaming at the ER entrance, sitting, waiting, some wounded from the outside, some broken from the inside, shrieking even silently, yelling repetitively.

“Where is… Where is…?”

A man is screaming.

“Where’s my sister? I don’t know where my sister is. She’s 10.”

The man shows how high a meter is.

I wanted to hug him.

In the corridors, wheels are rolling, transferring the wounded who cannot walk. Those whose legs can carry them drag their feet with eyes that speak to the void, their clothes and limbs and hair and face, all red. Some reddish-brown, some crimson. Medical personnel is covered in blood. The walls are covered in blood. The air is infused with blood. We don’t really realize how precious it is to have blood flowing through our arteries and veins, inside our body, safely, before seeing so much of it outside.

Between 6:00 pm and 6:15 pm, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate had exploded, and with it the last thread of hope, already frail, of this “better” tomorrow that never seems to come.

Some hospitals are down, patients treated in parking lots, under lights set up in a hurry, right next to a humming generator at the corner of the street.

A smell of diesel and blood. A smell of despair.

I spoke to Georges, lying alone on a hospital bed, between a car and the parking entrance booth. Georges has a stitched forehead and bandage covering half his face. His phone battery is running low and he has no means to contact his family. As a phone is secured, he calls his wife and promises to reach out again in an hour. Georges had closed his hairdressing salon a few years ago but kept tending to his customers’ hair on-demand.

He and many others are now waiting, on beds, on wheelchairs, on metal planks, among glass debris and hospital waste. But each one is alone, in the dark, in a parking lot that turned into an ER, next to what was the Saint Georges Hospital, founded in 1878, and is now a sad mass of concrete, darkened, emptied, with neither windows nor electricity.

An ambulance from Shebaa, which is 115 kilometers away from that hospital-parking, is transferring some of the last wounded of the night.

The emergency team is buzzing: doctors, nurses, red cross volunteers, firefighters, security officials... They haven’t had water. Haven’t had food. They’re overwhelmed but somehow, they still find enough strength to keep going.

A gunshot.

No one seems to know where it came from.

A man screams; he has just lost his father. In the middle of a street covered with shattered glass, he runs after the ambulance. I’m on the side of the street. The same one. As he runs, his hand reaches out to his waist, lifts his shirt, and prepares a gun. A gun. He’s ready to shoot again.

We wait.

Nothing happens.

Are we safe?

Nothing is certain anymore…

Overwhelmed. Tired. Panicked. With eyes as devastated as ground zero. Every eye is the crater left by the explosion at the Beirut port. And we are all in this mushroom cloud where the heartbreaking and the heartwarming intertwine, unleashing in us all the opposing feelings of the human spectrum. Hate, love, fear, frustration, regret, solidarity, despair, hope, care, madness, pain, sadness… Everything. And each one has a taste, an image, a smell.

Pandora’s box is just like Matryoshka dolls. Boxes inside boxes inside boxes. And we are never sure if it’s the last one.

However, when the powerless rush to help, when hotels on the brink of collapse are offering shelter, when families who can’t secure a month’s half salary are donating food boxes, when people face both covid19 and nitric acid with nothing but a cotton or surgical mask to help out, you know that there’s still hope.

There’s still hope, not in the unforeseeable future, but in those who are living through the same hell as you.

The Connection Creator | Founder & CEO of PersEd | Speaker | Author | G20 Young Global Changer | UNLEASH Talent | UNESCO APCEIU Youth Leader | Dancer | Polymath