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 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 218 people have died, 7500+ were injured and the estimate of economic loss surpassed 12 billion USD.

Where is my sister?

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, over and over again.

“Where is… Where is…?”

A man screams.

“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 are believed to have exploded, taking with them the last thread of hope, already frail, of this “better” tomorrow that never seems to come.

Parking lots turning into hospitals

One kilometre away from the burnt silos of the Beirut port, a hospital is down. Patients are now treated in the parking lot, under lights set up in a hurry, next to a humming generator that is upchucking its poisonous smoke around the corner of the street.

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

I speak 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 of contacting 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 light.

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

Treating powder with powder

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 and yet they still somehow find enough strength to keep going.

A gunshot.

Where did it come 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 left side of the street. The same one. As he runs, his hand reaches out to his left 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…

How are you feeling?

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 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.

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