Grieving Lebanese neighborhoods struggles to rebuild city after Beirut explosion

People look at the damaged port area following a massive explosion, in Beirut. (Reuters)

Claudette Halabi cried out from beneath the rubble of her house for an hour before she died. The neighbors couldn’t save her.

“We kept hearing the screams. I heard her voice. But we couldn’t do anything. It still hurts,” said Johnny Khawand, near the remains of her Beirut building. The thundering blast at the port last week had crushed its three floors.

Khawand, born 40 years ago in the same neighborhood, stayed up all night for the rescue operation. Four died in that building alone, among them Claudette, a widow in her 70s he knew since he was a kid.

In one of Beirut’s poorest neighborhoods, Karantina near the port, people are still reeling from the explosion that flattened homes and killed many neighbors who felt like family.

Everyone knows everyone. Everyone cried when they recalled the explosion.

A week later, the neighbors are struggling to find the money to rebuild, without help from the state in a city that was already deep in economic collapse.

The warehouse explosion killed at least 178 people, wounded thousands and ravaged entire districts. It shattered walls and ripped out balconies in Karantina, a neglected part of the capital.

The cluster of streets, with a slaughterhouse and a waste plant, saw one of the bloodiest massacres of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.

Many said the blast did more damage in a few seconds than 15 years of war. With the wreckage at their doorstep once more, families who have spent decades in Karantina have camped out in their apartments. They sleep on the floor or on ripped couches, without doors or windows, not sure how to go on.

‘Our life savings’

“I’m in a nightmare I can’t wake up from. I still can’t believe I’m looking at my mother’s coffin,” said Claudette’s son, George Halabi, who flew in for her funeral.

A woman reacts next to a coffin of Claudette Halabi who was killed in an explosion at the Beirut Port, during her funeral procession in Beirut. (Reuters)

A woman reacts next to a coffin of Claudette Halabi who was killed in an explosion at the Beirut Port, during her funeral procession in Beirut. (Reuters)

At the church cemetery, the blast had blown the doors off family mausoleums, sending a stench that encircled mourners.

“It’s a crime against all of Lebanon,” Halabi said. “My mother survived the war.”

Like many Lebanese, he blamed the sectarian elite that has ruled since the war for pushing the country to ruin.

With the blast under investigation, officials have pointed to a huge stockpile of explosive material stored in unsafe conditions at the port for years.

Months before the warehouse blew up, a currency crash had wiped out Tony Matar’s savings from his family’s linens store.

Tony Matar, 68, sits on a chair in his living room at his home that was damaged by an explosion at the Beirut port, in the neighbourhood of Karantina, Beirut. (Reuters)

Tony Matar, 68, sits on a chair in his living room at his home that was damaged by an explosion at the Beirut port, in the neighbourhood of Karantina, Beirut. (Reuters)

“Our life’s savings are in this house,” said Matar, 68, whose grandfather was born in Karantina. “It was a paradise.”

The shockwaves brought doors, closets, and chairs crashing on his daughter Patricia, 25. She had travelled to Beirut for her sister’s wedding, and her broken bones will take months to recover.

“Every time I come back home, I relive that moment. I remember how my daughter fell and I cry,” said Tony’s wife Souad, clad in black.

Her mother had died from cancer just days before. “I didn’t even have time to mourn her,” she said. “Can you imagine I thanked God she passed away? So that she did not have to see this.”

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Last Update: Saturday, 15 August 2020 KSA 10:42 - GMT 07:42
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