August 4 marks the one-year anniversary of the Beirut blast, but the wounds inflicted on the city and people have yet to heal.
The blast, one of history’s largest non-nuclear explosions, was caused after a warehouse that had been storing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate caught fire. Investigations into the blast, which left over 200 dead and injured thousands, have yielded little in the way of results, while many Lebanese continue to call for justice.
Rita Freiha Khoury, a blast victim, is still recovering from the physical and mental wounds caused by the explosion. She was in a coma for two weeks and had to have surgery for several injuries to her skull and body after the blast.
On August 4, 2020, Rita was getting her hair and nails done at a beauty salon in the capital.
“I don’t have any memory of where I was and what happened, I was told that the blast of the explosion pushed me very hard onto the floor and I had all the ceiling, the door and the elevator hit and fall on me.”
The beauty salon staff later told her that she was knocked unconscious and was unresponsive at the time.
“I was lucky enough that an ambulance was passing by and drove me to the hospital Hotel Dieu where doctors later on told my husband that I was in a very unstable and critical situation and that the only thing they were able to do was to incubate me to check if I was stable enough to live or if I was going to die. Can you imagine?” Rita said.
Rita’s family couldn’t find her for 16 hours after the incident since she did not have her ID on her when she was admitted to the hospital. Her husband was able to identify her due to the pink nail polish that the salon staff had applied.
“I stayed two weeks in a full coma, and after six weeks, I had a surgical reconstruction of the skull,” she said. “I suffered from a severe skull trauma, with cerebral edema and hemorrhagic contusion. I also had broken bones at the left side of my face, and a broken waist, and of course I did surgeries everywhere. I stayed in the hospital for one month. I also had to go under surgery for decompressive craniectomy where the neurosurgeon had to remove a part of my skull to ease the pressure inside my head.”
Rita is set to undergo surgery again on Thursday due to the large number of unhealed scars on her scalp from the day of the blast, with doctors worrying about that the scars could cause infections inside her head or skull.
Investigations into the blast have so far yielded few results, with no top officials questioned over the explosion, leaving many Lebanese angry.
“Until now, [there is] no real feeling of hope for me for the future. I need truth. Truth is really missing here in this country for what‘s happened since the explosion. Until now, only the truth is missing. I need to know what happened, I need justice, to be able to heal my wounds, and the sadness inside of me.
And I think this feeling is also being felt by everyone in the country,” Rita said.
‘It’s a healing process, but it takes too long to complete’
Another victim, Bachir Ramadan, was in his office at the time, 500 meters away from the site of the blast.
“We were at work and when we first saw the fire and white smoke, we thought it was just a fire and that it would be okay because firefighters were going to put it out,” Bachir said. “Little did we know that what we were looking at was about to explode.”
Moments later, the explosion ripped through the surrounding area, killing and injuring several people.
Bachir’s right eye, left hand, neck and skull were injured by the blast.
“I did four surgeries, I had a cut nerve in my left finger index finger, and I did two surgeries on my right eye, my eyes were not sitting on the correct level, they also put a metal plate in my skull so it can sit in a proper position,” he told Al Arabiya English.
“This is how it hurt me physically,” he said, adding that the blast brought with it some equally painful wounds to his mental health.
“It is a healing process, it takes far too long to complete but I guess I am still at the beginning of that cycle. I’m perfectly healed physically but I don’t think that I can ever mentally recover properly from this traumatic experience, it will take a long time.”
The blast rocked the entirity of Beirut, with many now left without homes and jobs.
“It was a traumatizing experience to say the least, it affected every part of Beirut. All of Beirut is broken, damaged, it’s not the Beirut we know, or the Beirut we grew up living in so it is really sad and frustrating to see all that,” added Bachir .
The explosion, which happened exactly one year ago today, left the Lebanese capital in shambles, with over 300,000 people homeless and 70,000 jobless. It also left 73,000 apartments, 9,200 buildings, 163 schools and education centers, 106 healthcare facilities damaged.
Prior to the blast, the country was already grappling with an out-of-control pandemic and instability, years of corruption and national debt brought on by the ruling elite.
Many are anxiously waiting to see what the newly elected Prime Minister designate Najib Mikati will do for the country as he is set to soon announce an entirely new cabinet, which is no easy feat.