Broken glass, wailing of sirens and thousands of injured people: Beirut with the eye of Realnoe Vremya’s eyewitness
Near Eastern journalist Anhar Kochneva on consequences of the blast in Lebanon
Thousands of injured people, tens of casualties, demolished houses and destroyed infrastructure — Realnoe Vremya’s columnist Anhar Kochneva living in Beirut welcomed the second day after the huge explosion. In a column written for our online newspaper, she described how citizens of the suffered capital of Lebanon are experiencing the accident. The Near Eastern journalist also talks about what measures the authorities and the international community are taking to face the consequences of the awful catastrophe.
Chink of broken glass and ambulances
Have you ever walked on broken glass for hours? I have walked on it for four hours today. I went around the district that suffered from the explosion. I put the rest of the quarters on hold: the equipment was flat. The world has not certainly had this scale of the catastrophe in the last 20 year, this can be compared only with the events in Manhattan.
The blast wave brushed off everything after the second explosion. Documents and bills, parts of furniture were thrown away from office buildings (an electricity agency, a mobile operator, a newspaper editorial and so on). The disorder that still remained indoors can be seen through smashed windows. The situation in flats is often much worse: many simply have nothing — all property was simply smashed by the explosion outside. People lived in big lifeless towers with completely empty spaces just less than a day ago.
Yesterday Beirut was a city of sirens. Hundreds of shop alarms that went off yelled piercingly loudly, there was simply nobody to switch them off. Caravans of howling ambulances hustled through a crowd of onlookers in the street. The firefighting service was putting off the fire that had been blazing in the port almost till the morning in the company of sirens. And different top dogs arrived, they also had sirens on.
And today there are two main accompanying “musical instruments” here today: the chink of removed broken glass and ambulances. Now they are transporting not just injured people but also the elderly with heart attacks who were back from their allotments in the mountains and saw what happened to their flats and belongings.
300,000 people without a roof over their head
The mayor of Beirut (now he is the world’s most well-informed person about the situation in the city) has already claimed that about 300,000 people lost their homes. The total damage from the explosion is no less than $5 billion.
Many Beirut citizens have country houses, at least they have numerous relatives. The majority of those whose urban flats aren’t safe to stay headed there. Owners of numerous hotels that have been empty this season because of the coronavirus and closed borders are inviting those who have no place to stay the night. Compatriots let some people live in flats that were empty for some reason.
The Lebanese have been famous for being kind of egoist rich people in the Arab world in the last decades who don’t care about relatives. Of course, this doesn’t refer to everybody, but such a noticeable behaviour of quite many people became the foundation for some stereotype. Today I have seen completely different people amid the pieces of the facade of houses that came off, crushed cars and a pile of glass. They were helping each other. They were congratulating absolutely unfamiliar people because they survived. Some adult female volunteers and security guards treated me to water (no place to buy) in hot streets, and Lebanese soldiers helped me to climb over a high bitumen divider on the flyover. People remembered they were people. The rabble and rude people perhaps hid somewhere. I wish it could always be like this, without tragedies...
“No light and water in the tap, shops aren’t working”
At the moment it is unclear how much energy, time and money it will take to get rid of the consequences of the catastrophe. Lebanon simply doesn’t have money for it, at all. But French President Emmanuel Macron was urgently going to arrive in Beirut on 6 August. And Kuwait was the first to send a plane with medicine and humanitarian aid to Beirut. Five planes from Russia were to arrive on Wednesday evening: not only medicine but also specialists (health workers and so on) as well as means to test for coronavirus to detect possible new patients among those who are now receiving help.
Lebanon needs support very much, and friendly countries are ready to render it. The country’s prime minister addressed the Lebanese who live abroad and pleaded them to help the country as much as they could. Many citizens of Lebanon living abroad have high-ranking posts in their countries of residence (some of them recently became the president of the Dominican Republic) or profitable businesses.
The country also keeps hoping for a resumption of international tourism — the country has things to show to foreign lovers of excursions. While the national currency’s rate that fell against the US dollar because of the economic crisis made the tourism services provided by the country much cheaper than before.
The affected districts near the port have no light and water in the tap, shops aren’t working, the restoration will take some time. Cars can’t be used in some districts. One of the Beirut museums as well as some historic buildings built in the 20s in the past century were seriously damaged. A Four Seasons hotel that was recently recognised the best Near Eastern hotel was damaged and requires cosmetic repairs. The famous street of bars will stop existing for some time in the way it looked, a lot of entrepreneurs lost their businesses or the opportunity of running them successfully within a second. In fact, not a lot of buildings fell down, most buildings managed to withstand the awful blast.
113 people died, and over 4,000 were injured, an employee of the Russian Embassy and the consul of the Republic of Kazakhstan are among them. Tens of people went missing, some of them can be alive and unconscious in hospitals of the country. Beirut clinics were full almost immediately, and injured people were sent to health care establishments almost across the country, it is very hard to look for relatives in such conditions. An entire firefighting brigade consisting of 10 people and a crew of health workers are among those nothing is known about. Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council that had a session right after the explosion appointed a commission to investigate the causes and find the guilty. There were also announced measures to get rid of the consequences of this tragedy.