Following a chemical explosion that affected more people in Lebanon than any previous blast in the country’s history of bombings, tens of thousands of people were injured or lost homes and loved ones.
Local missionaries gave out food and medicines and prayed with victims immediately after the Aug. 4 explosion in the bustling Gemmayzeh neighborhood of the port of Beirut that killed at least 180 people and injured more than 6,000.
“The city was already in need of food because of almost 10 months of demonstrations and government shutdown, and then the coronavirus,” the leader of a native ministry said. “Before the explosion, the people had nothing. Now they have less than nothing.”
Residents near the blast in a country that was already reeling economically remain almost entirely dependent on aid from Non-Government Organizations such as the local ministries, he said.
“For those living near the explosion, local missionaries have to provide not only everything everyone else needs, but also mattresses, kitchen utensils, food staples and the like,” the leader said. “They are starting over.”
On a recent delivery of 144 food boxes to residents farther away from the explosion, another 100 people signed up to receive aid, he said.
“Local missionaries are helping with medicine, medical supplies and prescriptions,” the leader said. “They have requests from victims for replacement glass [for broken windows].”
One indication of the trauma area residents have suffered is that parents are requesting diapers for older children who wouldn’t normally be wetting their beds, he said. The native ministry has dispatched a counseling team to speak and pray with as many people as possible.
Health Care Hit
Fire from a welding accident undertaken as part of port maintenance is suspected of igniting the blast.
The 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that exploded had been sitting at the port on an abandoned, Russian cargo ship for nearly seven years. With plans for the ammonium nitrate to be used as fertilizer in Mozambique, the ship had arrived in Beirut the fall of 2013 on a Russian-owned cargo ship from the Black Sea port of Batumi, Georgia. As the ship was listing and overloaded, Lebanese authorities impounded it, the then-captain reportedly said.
The ship’s owner, Igor Grechushkin of Russia, reportedly refused to pay docking fees and abandoned it. A court eventually seized the ship to pay off the owner’s debts.
The explosion damaged 8,000 structures, including 640 historic buildings, of which 60 were at risk of collapse, according to the United Nations.
A 180 percent spike in COVID-19 cases in Beirut followed within three weeks of the blast, according to a human rights group, raising concerns about how the city’s devastated health infrastructure would address it. The explosion destroyed at least three major hospitals and damaged two others. Among the worst-damaged hospitals was St. George Hospital University Medical Center, one of Lebanon’s primary coronavirus treatment and testing facilities.
The World Health Organization reported that the blast left dozens of clinics and health centers in Beirut “non-functional,” and that 500 beds in total were lost.
The ministry leader’s aunt was injured in the explosion and was able to get to a hospital soon afterward. She needed a CT scan of her head, but the hospital had no electricity.
“All they could do was stitch up her head, 200 stitches,” he said. “The friend with her needed 310 stiches. They were treated in the hospital hallway. The hospital could not serve their former patients, let alone those injured. The hospitals closed their doors 25 minutes after the explosion. They could no longer function.”
The explosion also reportedly left 70,000 more people unemployed in a country that was already suffering high unemployment.
“People are feeling hopeless – no food, no electricity, no water, no place to live,” the ministry leader said. “The food banks are empty. The stores are empty. Lots of injured people and no way to help them.”
Local missionaries have accessed food supplies from neighboring Syria, he said, and devastated residents will need aid for months to come.
“It will take a long time before they begin to think about rebuilding,” he said. “There is no glass to repair the buildings that only had glass damage. No one knows when water will ever be restored or electricity. There are no supplies to repair buildings.”
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