Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 27 September 2020

A city of shattered glass: Beirut reels after massive explosion

The destruction is clear on the streets, but so is the solidarity as Beirutis rally in a crisis

Even for a city as used to war as Beirut, the devastation wrought on Tuesday afternoon was staggering.

In a moment, the blast ripped through the city, killing scores, wounding hundreds and seemingly smashing every pane of glass in the city.

It was hard to walk through the streets. Shards of glass appeared to cover everything.

The roads were filled with destroyed cars, toppled trees, rubble and even a collapsed house.

Nothing about Tuesday afternoon’s huge explosion at Beirut port is clear except for the scale of the devastation.

For kilometres around the seafront, homes are damaged and destroyed.

Wounded people covered in blood walked the streets, unsure of what to do or where to go. The wail of ambulance sirens echoed through the choked roads.

Dr Michael Aoun, 24, was at home when the blast ripped through.

He grabbed his medical box and ran out the door, he said, as he knelt down to tend to the dozens of cuts suffered by Marie, 86.

No one seemed to believe the scale of the explosion that, in a matter of minutes, upended the city.

But despite the destruction, Beirutis came out to help each other through yet another national crisis.

At any time, a disaster of this scale would be crushing, but Lebanon is grappling with the worst economic crisis in its history, a growing rubbish crisis, rising unemployment and poverty and – on top of everything else – a surge in Covid-19 cases.

The government is already struggling to handle the myriad crises it is juggling.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud broke down in tears at the scene of the explosion.

Mr Abboud said at least 10 firefighters sent to tackle the first blaze disappeared without a trace.

“I have not witnessed so much destruction in my life," he said. "It's similar to what happened in Japan, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“This is a national catastrophe.”

As the sky darkened to night, the black smoke still rose from Beirut port as helicopters dropped water from overhead and firemen on the ground sprayed the site with hoses.

Shopkeepers sat on the curbside opposite, looking at their shattered businesses.

Others combed through the rubble of their livelihoods.

Faris, a man in his 60s, was already starting to clean up his shattered shop.

Despite the destruction around him, he maintained the calm resolve for which the Lebanese have become renowned in the face of crisis.

“We're used to this,” Faris said. “It’s the 10th time we've been bombed. It started with the Germans in 1948.”

Updated: August 5, 2020 11:43 AM

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