Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 1 October 2020

'It's like a war zone without the war': Lebanese diaspora in shock after explosions devastate Beirut

British-Lebanese community frantically trying to help loved ones caught up in destruction

The massive explosions that tore Beirut apart were heard 240 kilometres away in Cyprus but shockwaves from the blasts travelled around the world.

The Lebanese diaspora in the UK on Tuesday watched from afar in horror as events unfolded.

As authorities in Beirut counted the cost from the blasts, Father Fadi Kmeid, the head of Our Lady of Lebanon, London’s Maronite church, did the same.

Fr Kmeid called members of his congregation whose loved ones were missing or wounded.

“I can't express myself in terms of what we are feeling,” he told The National, his voice trailing off as he spoke from his church in west London, which has a congregation of 1,500 families.

"It’s devastation mixed with sadness, mixed with I don't know what.

“The majority of the people here left Lebanon during the time of war and these scenes bring back to them very difficult memories. It's a war zone without the war.”

Fr Kmeid said that apart from attending to the community in the UK, he was focused on getting aid to Lebanon after so much already sent to help the struggling country was destroyed at the port.

Our Lady of Lebanon has set up a fund to complement international efforts by the Lebanese Red Cross and Impact Lebanon’s disaster relief.

The crowdfunding page for Impact Lebanon’s disaster relief fund has raised £2.5 million (Dh12m/$3.2m) of its £5m goal.

The organisation will be co-ordinating with Lebanese charities on how to use the money most effectively.

Hicham Felter, a British-Lebanese political strategist in London, said he sent messages to friends and loved ones immediately after the explosion to check on their safety.

Mr Felter said that while most had escaped unharmed, one friend had to be treated in hospital and given stitches.

“A lot of people were very lucky to escape with minor injuries,” he said.

Mr Felter, who was the campaign director for Saad Hariri during the former Lebanese prime minister's 2018 re-election campaign, said the Beirut tragedy multiplied Lebanon’s existing problems.

“You have political crisis, economic crisis, a refugee crisis, the Covid crisis, corruption crisis and the grip of terror organisations on the country, which built a state within a state, before the shocking explosion,” he said. “It’s a perfect storm.”

The British government has pledged up to £5m in emergency funding to help the estimated 300,000 people made homeless in Beirut by the blasts.

The UK also said it offered support to the Lebanese armed forces and an emergency medical team.

Queen Elizabeth II said she was “deeply saddened” by the news of the explosion.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those who have been injured or lost their lives, and all those whose homes and livelihoods have been affected,” she said.

Hayel Khazaal, a community activist in the north of England, said he had been saddened by the events in Beirut but voiced anger over the apparent negligence that led to the explosions.

Lebanese officials have said the huge blast occurred after 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were left in a warehouse near the port for years.

“The loss of life and property that occurred yesterday was due to the corruption and gross negligence of the Lebanese governments,” Mr Khazaal said.

“We feel very sad about what happened and we will call for an international criminal investigation to uncover and hold those responsible accountable."

Updated: August 8, 2020 10:10 AM

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