“All of the sudden, the world went dark and I woke up in another room.” That was Najwa Amin’s experience of the Beirut blast on Tuesday evening, which has killed more than 149 people, wounded more than 6,000, and left an estimated 300,000 people homeless in the Lebanese capital.
Amin, a philosophy teacher at a private school in Beirut, was one of the many eyewitnesses to the huge explosion that destroyed the city’s seaport and half of the city that along with the rest of the country has been suffering from harsh economic conditions and the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Beirut is a publishing, cultural, medical and educational center, rich with some of the region’s best known universities and hospitals, and a popular tourist destination for Arabs and Westerners alike. Now many of its beloved institutions are reeling from a new round of damage and injuries.
Albert Chamoun, the media advisor at the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education, told Al-Fanar Media that dozens of schools and universities in Beirut were damaged from the blast. “The value of losses cannot be presented now,” he said. “But they are significant and amount to millions of dollars.”
Early investigations suggest the explosion was due to highly explosive materials that were confiscated years ago, stored in a warehouse in the port, and then neglected by the government, although some customs officials pleaded for them to be removed.
Citizen videos showed the moment of the explosion and the damage that rippled across the city, smashing glass, blowing doors out of their frames, overturning cars, toppling buildings and sending many people flying through the air. International rescue teams are now helping to dig through rubble to search for missing people.
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The explosion comes at a difficult time for Lebanon. Amid an increase in the number of infections with the novel coronavirus, hospitals that were already overwhelmed with patients now have to treat thousands of wounded. Three Beirut hospitals have had to close due to damage from the blast, according to the nurses’ union and the World Health Organization.
“The number of people injured in the bombing is higher than the coronavirus casualties in Lebanon,” said Amin. “As a child, I lived through part of the civil war and many bloody incidents; I can’t think anything of that was similar to what happened at the time of the explosion. I thought it was doomsday.”