It’s been six months since an explosion in Beirut tore apart the entire city and the Lebanese authorities have failed to deliver any justice for those affected.
After the blast, people were forced to wake up every day and pick up the pieces in order to rebuild what was left of Beirut, and rise once again. The Lebanese citizens will never forget that in that moment, on 4 August 2020 at 6:08pm, 204 innocent lives were lost, over 6,500 people were injured, 200,000 homes were destroyed, 300,000 people were left homeless and 70,000 workers lost their jobs.
No one expected a massive warehouse explosion to happen, the sheer scale of the blast shook the world. Experts have estimated that the blast wave across Beirut could be one of the strongest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded. Local Cypriot media reported that the explosion could be felt over 200 kilometres away in Cyprus.
The nightmare of the 4 August led to scenes that ‘resembled a horror film’, said Khalil Haddad, a Beirut resident, husband and father of one. Khalil was having a minor operation at Al Roum hospital, also known as Saint George Hospital, less than one kilometre away from the port. He recounts small details that he didn’t think would be important at the time but then ended up saving his life. Minutes before the blast he put on his shoes to go and meet his wife who was waiting for him in the reception hall, they were due to have a coffee before his operation. He could never have imagined that a task he carried out every day – putting shoes on – would save him from the wreckage of the hospital piercing into his bare feet.
“By the way, I didn’t know the word ‘trauma’ until the explosion, you know? It’s a new term for me,” he explains.
Lebanese have been dealing with the rising poverty across the country along with the political paralysis, a dire economic crisis and a strict lockdown due to the aggressive coronavirus outbreak which has put the entire country under extreme pressure.
“Our story did not end that day. Our story to rebuild and stand back on our feet is going to take years.”
Thirty-two-year-old Sarine Dermesrobian used to wake up to the view of the boats docking and leaving the port, but on that day, the force of the blast threw her across her apartment and shattered glass cut into her body. Sarine walked barefoot on broken glass to reach a hospital as no cars or ambulance vehicles were able to drive through the affected areas. She had a broken arm, an open stomach and open wounds all over her legs but she couldn’t feel the pain; she was determined to live.
“Honestly, no one has any hope left, from the eldest people here to the newborns. These babies are born with no hope,” she says of the situation across the country.
A 22-year-old firefighter Mehyeddine Baghdadi lost his entire team of ten people in the devastating explosion which was first believed to be caused by fireworks. Baghdadi was one of the first people on the scene to begin digging through rubble to find members of his team of nine men and one woman.
The Beirut firefighters had been ordered to respond to a fire which they thought was caused by fireworks which were no longer under control, they had no idea that they were heading to a devastating scene of carnage and destruction.
Though an investigation into the blast was promised, and expected to conclude within five days, six months on Lebanese citizens are no closer to receiving justice. The probe has since stalled after two former ministers charged in the case filed a motion asking Lebanon’s Court of Cassation to replace the judge assigned to find those responsible and hold them to account.
Human Rights Watch has joined calls for an independent inquiry into the blast after fears that Lebanon’s political players may never allow a probe to hold those responsible to account.
Nearly seven years after 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate was allowed into Beirut port and left in a warehouse which was not designed to store such a volatile material, Beirut has changed forever. Six months on, those living with scars from that day are losing hope that authorities will provide them justice.