Editor’s note: This is one of two articles we are posting today to mark the one-year anniversary of the catastrophic explosion that crippled Beirut on August 4, 2020. The other is titled “Art Students Portray Horror and Hope in Works Recalling the Beirut Port Blast.”
On August 4, 2020, at 6:08 p.m., time stood still in Beirut as the city’s port erupted in an explosion that killed hundreds of people and injured thousands more. Though it has been a year since the blast happened, to many of Beirut’s residents, it feels like yesterday.
Memories of this day remain crystal clear, thanks in part to digital technology. The devastating blast was preceded by a smaller explosion and fire in a warehouse, and people already had their mobile-phone cameras trained on the port when the second, colossal explosion occurred. Thus, they were able to document the blast as it happened, as well as its aftermath. (See a related article, “Beirut Blast Cripples an Educational and Cultural Capital.”)
Technology was also a connection to the outside world and a source of information in the moments after the blast happened.
Initially, many people in Beirut thought they were being bombed from the air, and memories of the war came back to haunt them. Some thought a generator had exploded in their building.
“Actually, people who were abroad or outside of Beirut knew what was happening before we did,” said Dalia Tohme, a former resident. “We didn’t know what was going on. I had just assumed there was a bomb or explosion of some kind.”