A team of 10 was ordered to respond to a fire at the Beirut port. They did not know what they were heading for.
Beirut, Lebanon – Large parts of Lebanon’s capital city were torn apart by the explosion this week that killed more than 150 people, wounded over 5,000 and changed the face of the city.
Al Jazeera spoke to survivors about the moment the disaster struck on Tuesday, August 4 around 6pm (15:00 GMT).
Toufic Nassar, 32, works in IT
“I was sitting on the sofa at my house with my dad when everything started rumbling. We had a couple seconds, we all hit the deck and then the windows exploded. It was like slow motion, everything was breaking, wine bottles were falling off shelves, the whole building felt like there was an earthquake and everything exploded around us. We jumped into the neighbour’s house. She’s an old lady and her oxygen tanks got stuck under the cupboards and we had to lift her. There was a gas bottle doing its thing that we had to close quickly. It’s an old building so there was lots to do. Then I checked on my family and began cleaning.“
Mariam Noun, 22, project coordinator at an NGO
“I was at a cafe in Beirut’s Raouche district with my friend when the ground shook beneath us. Then there was a massive blow of wind and a loud sound that pushed air into our ears. I thought Israel struck us, and the war has come. I was next to the sea and thought the ground would fall out from under me and I’d end up in the water. People started running out of the cafe, and we ran towards the car to go home. The streets were full of traffic and glass. Beirut was broken, God help the people. My ears still feel pressurised.”
Fahad Hasan, 21, dentistry student in Lebanon for summer vacation
“I was watching TV and first there was a big sound, like a voice coming from everywhere. We felt everything shaking with the massive voice. Then everything fell apart: glass, the walls, the television. I hit the floor for 10 seconds and then ran to the balcony to see what happened. I saw a big red cloud. My parents let me go to the streets two hours later and I helped wounded people and donated blood.”
Hasan Homsi, 55, food cart owner
“I was at my sister’s house in the Ras El Nabeh neighbourhood, drinking coffee. We heard the explosion; the sound was crazy loud. The glass broke immediately and we saw the dead and wounded on the ground. I’ve been through the entire Lebanese war so it was normal; it felt like I was back. The smell of blood is still in my clothes from helping the wounded. I’m so sad, so sorry for this poor people.“
Mira Berri, 23, sells accessories
“I was walking in Beirut’s Gemmayzeh street, next to a pizza restaurant where one of the buildings collapsed. When we first heard the sound they were shouting that it’s an explosion at a bank or something on fire. Then people screamed ‘Israel!’ and then nothing. I remember an ugly feeling. I fell on the ground, my friend protected me and nothing happened to us. We’re both ok. We have a house in Mar Mikhael and went to see if our friends were alive or dead. They weren’t there, but they turned out to be fine.”
Ali Sheikh, 20, works at family cafe
“I was at the cafe with my dad and brother, but there was no one there due to the economic situation. There was a quake and we said, ‘Fine, that’s a quake, it will pass.’ Then suddenly the glass fell on us, the TV flew and all our cups broke. And my dad was hurt. I thought the explosion was right in front of my cafe – all of us did, it was so powerful. We went home to a house full of broken glass.”
Imad Aoun, 52, works in construction
“I had just gotten home to Sidon from Beirut, showered, ate and sat down two or three minutes before the explosion happened and I jumped out of my chair. I told my wife that it’s a barrage from the sea. Then my daughter called and said there had been an explosion in Beirut. I told her ‘Are you stupid? The explosion is in Sidon’. It turns out I was the idiot and my daughter was right. My thoughts were paralysed: ‘What is happening? Is it possible an explosion in Beirut was heard in Sidon?’ It was a dark night, dark and as tragic as possible. You aren’t sad about your house, but about our big house called Lebanon.”
Miriam Shami, 27, dance teacher and fashion designer
“I had finished practice and was driving out of Beirut with three friends. I told them to put their face masks on because I thought there was a checkpoint checking for masks. Then we got to a traffic light at the exit of Beirut. We saw smoke. I was sending a voice note to my friend Raymond, the first blast hit and I said ‘Oh Mary!’ The second blast knocked the phone from my hand, I closed my ears and saw a car fly over from the other side. I panicked and tried to keep driving because I thought we were being shelled, but then my brain recalibrated and I knew it was from the fire. Thank god I was fine, though emotionally … I already knew I didn’t want to live here and of course now I don’t have a single percent of hope.”
Elie Bakar, 24, unemployed mechanical engineering graduate
“I was at Coral Beach, hanging out and drinking as if nothing was about to happen. Then, the explosion. It felt like an earthquake, a shock; everyone was shocked. Many people were panicking because they knew people who work close to the port. We packed our stuff, left and called everyone we needed to on the way. Our parents have experienced things like this, but it’s a new thing for us. I lived in Abu Dhabi, where there’s no such thing as a bombing. So now we move on as if nothing happened, but deep down we are all touched by it.”
Omar Nasr, 43, construction worker
“I was walking in the street in Mar Mikhael after filming the smoke coming out of the port, and 10 minutes later there was the sound of a strong explosion. I flew 30 metres in the air, like someone raised me and put me down 30 metres away. The same pressure that lifted me put me down with few cuts. When I tried to get up I saw projectiles coming at me, glass and rubble, so I hid in the middle of the street. The chaos was strange; people lying on the roads. I looked for my close friend like a crazy person, under chairs and a table, then I found him and treated him. I’ve gone through the war and nothing like this happened. It’s something strange and horrifying.”