'It warms the heart': Lebanese unite in solidarity after explosion

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Less than 48 hours after a deadly explosion at Beirut port that ripped through the capital, killing more than 150 people, the streets of the worst-hit neighbourhoods were filled with volunteers, brooms and shovels in hand.

“It breaks my heart to see these people who lost their homes,” said Mia, a high-school student who came with more than 100 others from all over Lebanon in an effort co-ordinated by the youth movement of Caritas, the international Catholic relief confederation.

“I feel that I have an obligation to help the capital of my city. I feel the pain they feel” said Reem, another student, as she removed broken pieces of furniture and glass from a first-floor flat that was obliterated by Tuesday’s blast.

The flat's windows were blown in with such force that glass debris broke through the bedroom doors, including in a child’s room with pink walls. Toys and dolls were strewn on the floor. The bathroom and and corridor were stained with blood.

From the flat's terrace, the crumbled gigantic grain silos at the port are clearly visible a few hundred metres away – a testimony to the force of the explosion that released a copper-coloured mushroom cloud. The UK government said it measured 4.5 on the Richter scale, the BBC reported.

“It was like a small Hiroshima bomb” said Hamo Moskofian, 67-year-old journalist who lived in the same building in the Mar Mkhael neighbourhood. “I moved in here in 1970 and have seen many wars here but such an explosion has never happened,” he said, referring to Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war and the 2006 Israel-Israel war. “I thought I had died.”

A woman stands inside a damaged restaurant. AP Photo

People and employees attend a mass over the victims who were killed in the blast, at the Al-Roum hospital at Ashrafieh area in Beirut. EPA

Workers are pictured at the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut. EPA

A man sleeps near a damaged car near the site of Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area. REUTERS

Workers line at the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut. EPA

French President Emmanuel Macron visits the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut. EPA

People and employees attend a mass over the victims who were killed in the blast, at the Al-Roum hospital at Ashrafieh area in Beirut. EPA

A view of the port of Beirut on January 25, 2020, left, and on August 5, 2020, a day after the explosion. AFP

Bride Israa Seblani poses for a picture in the same place where she was taking her wedding photos at the moment of the explosion. Reuters

People stand with their belongings as they leave their damaged homes. Reuters

A Lebanese man shows injuries on his back after the massive explosion in Beirut. EPA

Men are seen sitting inside a damaged home, following Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area. Reuters

A pedestrian takes photos of a badly damaged building in Beirut. Bloomberg

Lebanese Druze clerics check damaged cars. AP Photo

A statue representing the Lebanese expatriate is seen in front of a building that was damaged by the explosion. AP Photo

People walk with their belongings in the area of Mar Mikhael and Gemayzeh. EPA

The curtains in the rooms of the Le Gray hotel in the Lebanese capital Beirut swaying in the wind. AFP

A view of a damaged Fransa Bank. EPA

People check damaged vehicles. EPA

Volunteers clean the streets amid the wreckage. Reuters

People carry belongings after evacuating their damaged housing units at area of Mar Mikhael and Gemayzeh. EPA

A destroyed Bank Audi SAL branch stands in Beirut. Bloomberg

A worker wearing a protective face mask stands at the entrance to a destroyed Fransabank SAL branch in Beirut. Bloomberg

Volunteers carry brooms as they walk to clean the streets. Reuters

A woman sits in front of a damaged building. EPA

A general view of the Beirut port area after the massive explosion. EPA

An aerial view shows the massive damage done to the Electricity of Lebanon building. AFP

A view of the damaged building of the Lebanese fashion designer Zuhair Murad. EPA

Volunteers gather aid supplies to be distributed for those affected by Tuesday's blast. Reuters

Lebanese men clears rubble, one day after the explosion at the Beirut Port, in the Gemayzeh area. EPA

Lebanese youth salvage a velvet sofa from a destroyed apartment in the Gemayzeh area of Beirut. EPA

Lebanese activists take part in a campaign to clean the damaged neighbourhood of Mar Mikhael. AFP

An injured Lebanese shop owner sits at her desk selling her wares. EPA

Moskofian had put aside several bags of things to keep while volunteers threw out everything out that was destroyed. Every few minutes, one of them hurled glass and broken furniture to the ground floor that landed with a great crash and a cloud of dust.

“I just kept important documents … My laptop and printer is destroyed. Cupboards are all to be thrown out. But where will we find all the money [to replace them]?" he said. "Hopefully the international community will help, and maybe the corrupt government will also think about its people.”

Despite his hope for government help, there were no public officials in the streets of Mar Mkhael. “The government let us down before so we don’t expect much from them anymore,” said Jane,18, who came with family and friends from Jounieh, a city north of Beirut, to help with the clean-up. “It warms the heart how many people are here … it’s very heartwarming and nice for a change,” she said.

“During the [1975-90 civil war], we knew who our enemies were. But now, the enemy is the government,” said Charbel Rajha from the Christian aid group S’Aime. The group's volunteers were visiting the area to help with the clean-up and comfort elderly people living alone.

“We were already starving and could barely live. We were afraid of having a small problem in our car because changing one of the parts now costs at least the equivalent of one month’s salary. Now look at this,” he said, gesturing towards a car covered in rubble from a collapsed building in the street of Mar Mkhael.

Months before the blast, and before the coronavirus pandemic, Lebanon was suffering from its worst-ever economic crisis which has caused hyperinflation and mass unemployment as well as anti-government protests.

Now, people are not sure how they will finance the rebuilding of their destroyed homes. Even those with money cannot access it after banks implemented capital controls last November, outside of any legal framework.

“The problem might not end here,” said a civil engineer from a Lebanese company, who declined to be named. “When the rain starts in winter, water will pour into cracks. That could make the concrete explode and corrode the steel. The building’s structure would become very weak and could collapse in maybe a year from now."

Updated: August 7, 2020 08:25 PM

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