Families of those missing, killed in Beirut blasts wait for answers

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Moments after a devastating explosion rocked the city of Beirut Tuesday, thousands of Lebanese rushed to check on their loved ones.

Many are still waiting to hear back as dozens of people remain missing.

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Mohammad Tlaise, a father of two, is among employees at the Port of Beirut who went missing following massive explosions at the facility. A relative of his told Al Arabiya English that they last contacted him at 6:02 p.m., shortly before he went to see “what is happening” when a fire broke out in a hangar near him.

“We are praying to God that they find him. Although the chances are slim, we have hope,” the relative said.

Tuesday’s explosions devastated the city, killing at least 135 people and injuring more than 5,000 and tens more missing. As the search continues for survivors and bodies in the surrounding area of the port, victims’ families resorted to social media platforms to find information about their relatives’ whereabouts.

Videos circulating on social media initially showed a fire in one of the port’s hangars, identified as the Number 12 hangar, next to the grain silos. This is what was believed to have caused the first explosion. Moments later, a huge blast – creating a massive shockwave that many compared to the Hiroshima atomic bomb – shook the city and was felt as far as Cyprus.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud said that the capital’s fire department had received a call about a fire at the port. Two vehicles and ten people were dispatched.

“There are no remains from the vehicles; that’s how big the explosion was,” Abboud said Wednesday in televised remarks.

While the cause of the blasts is still being investigated, officials have said that 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate were stored at the port.

“We will know who is responsible within a maximum [period] of five days. Whoever is responsible will be held accountable,” Interior Minister Mohammad Fahmi told reporters following a government meeting Wednesday.

Families and friends of port employees and first responders continue to await answers.

Among the group of firefighters who rushed to put out the initial fire was 28-year-old Missal Hawwa.

“I kept checking up on him … After a while, I heard a very loud noise. I kept calling him, but he never received my calls,” Hawwa’s fiance, Shirine Reslan, told Al Arabiya English.

Reslan shared a picture of Hawwa, along with two others, attempting to open the warehouse door where the explosions took place.

Hawwa’s fiancée blamed the “corrupt state” for the incident, saying August 4, 2020, was “the worst day of my life.”

Fidel Mawla, an employee at the port, was luckier. Despite leaving hours before the explosion, he also considers the day “the worst” of his life.

“We did not get a chance to wish anyone well. Everyone we called was [either] missing or dead,” Mawla told Al Arabiya English.

Fidel lost his cousin, Qassem Mawla, and a number of his friends who worked at the Beirut Container Terminal Consortium, handling container operations at the port.

As many people are still reported missing, families of the victims took to social media to urge others to continue sharing their relatives’ pictures in hopes of locating them.

The Lebanese army closed off the port area Wednesday morning and started its own search in the rubble. The army dispatched helicopters, soldiers and boats in continuous attempts to find any survivors.

Meanwhile, some of the missing victims’ families gathered outside nearby, demanding to enter and search for their relatives.

“I cannot find my brother. I want to dig for him inside, but they [the army] are not allowing me,” one of the protesters said in televised remarks.

Employees at the grain silos, which were destroyed, were also among the missing.

Tatiana Hasrouty, daughter of Ghassan Hasrouty, who was on duty at the silos at the time of the explosion, urged the government to take immediate action to locate her father and his coworkers.

“We’re devastated … they are still trapped in the rubble,” Hasrouty’s daughter told Al Arabiya English. “Hopefully, we will find him,” she added.

One family was more fortunate on Wednesday. Civil Defense member Issam Shamas, who had been trapped beneath the rubble since the explosion, was rescued. Videos circulated across social media, showing Shamas awake and being carried away on a stretcher as people around him cheered.