August 4. Beirut Explosion. We will remember.
On this day, a year ago, I was lying on my bed, 16 kilometers away from Beirut, when I heard two consecutive blasts.
I jumped out of bed convinced that a bomb had landed right next to my house. My brother, mom, and I rushed to the balcony, expecting to see buildings collapse.
Nothing. There was nothing.
I picked up the phone. No signal. I turned on the TV. No signal.
For five minutes, we were pacing back and forth and trying to understand what had happened. Finally, we learned that it was an explosion in Beirut, which was so intense that almost everyone across Lebanon was able to hear it.
Of course, we thought a politician was targeted and assassinated.
Turns out, the target were the people.
Michelle Al Bitar.
August 4, 2020. I was in my bedroom reading, when my 7-year-old nephew entered and asked me questions about some kids’ show he was watching.
As the words started to flow from my mouth, I suddenly couldn’t hear myself anymore. My ears started ringing. My voice disappeared. And my nephew jumped in place then burst into tears.
My sister rushed inside the room as well, legs shaking, and asked me what the hell had happened, as if I had any idea.
For a moment, I was afraid another civil war had erupted—it felt completely natural for me to jump to this conclusion because my brain is completely immersed in my parents’ retelling of the Lebanese Civil War’s violent history.
But I couldn’t dwell on this fearful thought. I had to convince my frightened nephew that those were just fireworks or a simple fire in a nearby factory.
When my parents turned on the TV, a few moments later, we learned that the Beirut port exploded into pieces, along with endless kilometers around it. My sister turned hysterical because her husband was in that area (thankfully, by the time the explosion happened, he had already driven away).
I was silently praying and thanking God that my boyfriend left his work (near the port) early that day and made it home.
I was silently praying that there were no victims.
I was silently praying that this was all some sort of a nightmare that might end soon.
My phone was going crazy with messages. I had to check on every friend who would possibly be in Beirut at that moment.
I was terrified.
You’d think that in 2020, there would be precautionary measures to manage highly-explosive substances. But not in Lebanon.
Tons of ammonium nitrate were received and stored in 2013. They were left in Beirut’s Port until August 4, 2020.
6:07 PM. Help turned into a massacre. Ten firefighters were sent to the port. They thought that they needed to put a fire out. Ten firefighters were sent to save the city, but they never returned. Ten firefighters were sent to their death beds.
6:07 PM. A time we will never forget. Two blasts, after which, time had stopped. The ammonium nitrate exploded and left hundreds of people dead and thousands injured.
Blood was everywhere. Hospitals were destroyed, and the beds were full. Glass was everywhere. People were traumatized. Parents drove from one hospital to another in search of their children. Children carried their parents out of destroyed apartments. Delivery motorcycles drove dying people to the hospitals. Doctors lost their lives. Mothers gave birth using a phone’s flashlight. Nurses carried premature babies from one hospital to another. Firms lost their employees. Weddings turned into funerals. Graduations turned into goodbyes.
Families were promised the truth in just five days. One year later, they haven’t even gotten an apology.
People lost their children, their siblings, their parents, their houses, their jobs, and their souls. Not even an apology. One year later, people are still traumatized. Individuals are still on anti-depressants. Not even an apology.
One year later, my country is swarming with protestors. One year later, those responsible for this blast are enjoying luxurious lifestyles, while parents suffer the pain of having buried a child.
One year later, no one is held accountable.
Our people have been killed twice.
Once through the blast, and the other when their tragedies were dismissed.
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