‘I can’t believe I’m alive’: Survivors recount Beirut explosion

Al Jazeera speaks to witnesses and survivors in immediate aftermath of massive explosion that shook Lebanon’s capital.

Confusing, devastating, disastrous: these were some of the words people in and around Beirut used to describe a huge explosion that ripped through the Lebanese capital, killing dozens of people and wounding thousands more.

The explosion at Beirut’s port on Tuesday was felt across the city and beyond, causing widespread damage and spreading panic. Authorities have launched an investigation to determine what had caused it.

Al Jazeera spoke to survivors and witnesses in the immediate aftermath of the explosion. Here is what they had to say.

‘I can’t believe I’m still alive’

“I was a few metres away from the electricity establishment in Lebanon, which is parallel to the port,” Nada Hamza, a Beirut resident, said.

“I went out of my car, I ran away to the entrance of one of the buildings, then I realised that the building was destroyed. Then, I tried to call my parents, but I couldn’t reach anyone,” she added.

“I can’t believe I’m still alive.”

Lebanon's capital Beirut shaken by massive explosion [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]
The explosion left the port a wasteland [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]

‘This was very massive’

Nasser Yassin, an associate professor at the American University of Beirut, was outside Beirut at the time of the explosion but felt as if it was “nearby”. 

“We were shaken,” he added.

“This was very massive, I haven’t seen this [before], I lived through the civil war in Lebanon, the Israeli invasion … but this is the biggest explosion that happened in Lebanon up to my experience and knowledge.

“We don’t know yet what happened, but this is going to be huge in Beirut.”

‘Devastation beyond any description’

Mohamed Khalifeh, a former health minister who rushed to a hospital to help treat the wounded, said he was at his house at the time of the explosion.

“I shouted to my family to take care, there’s an earthquake – and immediately, everything collapsed,” he recalled.

“I narrowly escaped this; I left my family and jumped to the hospital to save lives.

“We are in a very bad situation economically, [there is a shortage of] medical supplies, shortage of everything, we manage to cope, but the devastation is beyond any description.”

INTERACTIVE: Beirut explosion map

‘It was a disaster’

Khaled Hamade, a former army general, said he was about one kilometre (0.6 miles) from the site of the explosion.

“It was a disaster,” he said. “There was broken glass all over the streets, and you see many, many injured all over the streets,” added Hamade.

“Everything [made me remember] the last day of the civil war in Beirut.”

‘People are going to sleep without windows’

Habib Battah, a journalist and founder of the news site beirutreport.com, described the incident as “a natural disaster” because it caused widespread damage far beyond the explosion site.

“I have friends who live 10-15 minutes away who showed me their entire house was blown out. I am wondering how people are going to sleep tonight without windows,” he said.

“This country is not prepared for disasters,” added Battah. “We always lived in the fear of a major catastrophe. A natural disaster, an earthquake … this country has no emergency readiness and no response. There are barely enough police to control highways which are extremely dangerous. In no place you will find the government trying to put regulations and safety for its citizens – so there are no highways patrols, no fire inspections of buildings.”

Lebanon's capital Beirut shaken by massive explosion [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]
Hospitals in the city were overwhelmed with wounded [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]

‘The glass cut me up’

A man covered in blood said he did not fully understand what had happened.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I was fishing, I heard there was a fire, so I began to head home, then I heard that something explode, and then, this happened, I got injured this is all I know.”

Another wounded man, whose face was also covered in blood, said: “My car was down there and it rolled over. I think my injuries are because of the glass. The glass cut me up.”

‘Youssef, dad is in heaven’

At Hotel-Dieu hospital, itself left damaged by the explosion, dozens of people trying to enter were told to go elsewhere.

“It’s a catastrophe, a catastrophe,” a man said in disbelief.

Inside the crowded lobby, a family got the news that their relative was dead. A young woman bent over in anguish, spread her arms open to an infant child and said “Youssef, dad is in heaven.” An old man fell to his knees and smacked the ground, over and over.

‘The ship is totally destroyed’

Several people on board an Italian ship docked near the explosion site, the Orient Queen, were wounded and taken to hospital.

“The ship is totally destroyed – the cabins, the lounge, everything,” Vincenco Orlandini, a 69-year-old crew member, said.

“I heard the blast, and I flew to the opposite of the lobby, then I landed on the carpet, and I’m lucky, I think that saved me.”

Additional reporting by Timour Azhari and Zeina Khodr in Beirut

Lebanon's capital Beirut shaken by massive explosion [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]
The port is located in the heart of Beirut [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera