Among those whose lives were cut short by the deadly August 4 explosion in Beirut was 59-year old Ghassan Hasrouti, one of seven employees working at the location of the blast. The Port of Beirut, where the warehouse storing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate was located, had been his second home for the past 39 years.
Pandora Times spoke to Hasrouti’s second child, Elie, whose call for government rescue actions at the port, along with his late father’s cellphone, went unanswered after the traumatizing event which left 6,500 injured.
Elie described the country’s response as “malicious and suspicious,” adding to the growing body of evidence that suggests the government was aware of the dangerous explosives being stored at the port since 2013.
In the early hours following the explosion, a coworker of Ghassan informed Elie that their father was working at the port, where a ship was unloading at the time. “He said at the last minute that he was working a 24-hour shift,” the 35-year old second child recounted his father’s final phone call. “He wished he had brought a blanket with him.”
That was less than an hour before the explosion that saw rubble descended all over the city.
Fearing that Ghassan was trapped under the mountain of debris, the family’s youngest daughter, 19-year old Tatiana, turned to Twitter for help. Her initial tweet on August 4 has since been retweeted almost 4,000 times.
— Tatiana Hasrouty (@tatianahasrouty) August 4, 2020
And the Hasrouti children didn’t stop there.
“We called everywhere, every official; [we reached out to them] on social media” said 35-year old Elie. “We were trying to let them know that they should start the rescue.”
When the authorities sealed off the explosion site, explaining to Elie that there had been a lack of resources, and that there were “no people, lifting machines, [or] equipment” available to aid in the rescue mission, Elie went and offered to provide the equipment needed for the rescue to begin.
His offer to help and plead for rescue to begin at the explosion site went unanswered until Thursday morning, 40 hours later, when the equipment arrived along with the French rescue team’s hope of finding trapped survivors.
Then came Sunday, when Colonel Roger Khoury of the Lebanese army said at a press conference that the first phrase of searching for survivors had ended. In response, Elie claimed that “the search for the missing” afterwards would “result in the use of heavy gear and machinery” that were not suited for removing rubble from atop the explosion site.
“We tried telling them all this time that these people are not numbers,” said Elie, referring to the dead, injured, and missing. “They have families, and they are loved.”
The father’s fate remained unknown for the 14 days that followed, during which the third oldest of the Hasrouti children welcomed her first child.
During the same period, the country saw aid supplied by the international community, most notably France, the United States, and Germany, with supplies delivered whilst vowing to bypass the Lebanese government, despite the state’s attempt at blocking any acts of circumvention.
It wasn’t until Eile got the only call he’s received from government officials — notifying him that one of the bodies found underneath the rubble was identified as his father’s — that the family succumbed to their worst nightmare.
The body was found near 6 others, at the underground operation room, all dead. The blanket that Hasrouti had wanted never made it there.
Elie, like many others in Lebanon, is now finding himself in denial about what happened, pointing to the “corruption” and “inconsideration” that hindered much of the country’s hope to “live in dignity, to live securely and peacefully.”
Today, the 35-year old is calling for the need of a “transparent investigation” directed at the cause and aftermath of the blast. He also questions why it took the rescue team over 45 hours to start the operation, as well as government official’s attempt to cease their search for the living on Sunday, one day after the search for survivors had started.
Human Rights Watch has since issued a statement echoing Elie’s demands, citing the need for an “independent investigation” led by “international experts is the best guarantee that victims of the explosion will get the justice they deserve.”
Worse than a broken home
As the Hasrouti children mourn the loss of their father, many others on the opposite side of the city closer to the explosion site still live with massive damage to their homes.
Alexandra Chedid, whose family’s 3rd floor apartment in the Geitawi district of Beirut, survived the blast, approximately a kilometer away from the explosion site.
It didn’t collapse, though Chedid’s road to recovery is far from just repairing and rebuilding what was taken with the force that blanketed Beirut with ashes.
Her road to recovery spells “guilt and heartbreak.”
Living within close proximity to the explosion site in the city had never been an issue nor a concern for the Chedid family—the apartment’s balcony doors had always stayed open; the smiles have always mirrored their days and nights of joy even as the country faced unrest sparked by the government’s now-scratched plan to raise a new tax on WhatsApp voice calls.
The August 4 explosion changed everything.
“My Mum was saying if there was a war, she would be sending me away,” explaining that the country they have long called home could no longer shelter the family of four, especially when reports of planes flying nearby the explosion site sparked the now-dismissed speculation that the disaster may have been an attack Israel would be responsible for.
Senior Western sources have later acknowledged its reconnaissance craft flying above the Lebanese coast.
The collapsed ceiling, broken doors, and shattered glasses were not the biggest worries for Chedid. After all, the former Paris of the Middle East has deteriorated into leaving them living “one day at a time.”
“We can’t have a plan in a country like this,” directing her confusion and frustration at the government’s lack of response that has been evident since last year’s protests made global headlines.
“We are like animals, and not even animals are being treated like this,” she said.
Still struggling to regain her appetite since August 4, Chedid said she’s now forced to see the world “differently” living with the guilt that her family has survived the explosion, that they have since been “doing relatively well” at a time when many have lost their homes, and when her friends who have fled Lebanon now face uncertainties elsewhere.
“When we only had the coronavirus in Lebanon,” said Chedid whilst comparing the state of country to her livelihood before the blast, “I was staying home, not living the life that I wanted…but [my friends and I] would still go to the beach.”
Today, she’s left reeling from the lack of company, the warmth of friendships that has all but disappeared, and the mental state that she has tried so desperately to cling onto—not to be affected by all of 2020’s negativities that have unfolded before her eyes.
August 4 has none but “killed the hope” for many Lebanese longing for a less corrupt government, economy, and future in their country that’s already crippled by a financial crisis, a 55% poverty rate, and an influx of over 1.5 million Syrian refugees—the world’s largest per capita.
A road to heal that spells hope
Lebanon is also home to many charities, one such is JCI Beirut—a chapter of Junior Commission International Lebanon that has announced their plans on Wednesday to assist those with urgent needs, citing their goal of “helping the country rebuild,” said Marie Khalife, vice president for community development in an interview with Pandora Times.
At the helm of their 4 on-going projects—So Can She, Social Schoolyard, Tougher than Cancer, and I Green Beirut, the organisation’s focus is on “[adapting] the current situation and [the city’s] current needs.”
Over the next few weeks, Beirut will see schools being built in the city’s affected area, as well as the introduction of fresh organic produce delivered to the cancer patients affected by the blast—funded by an international online fundraiser with a target of helping 10 families for the next year.
Since the So Can She project launched on September 10, their partnership with Nation Station—first launched immediately following the blast—has been described as “good” by Khalife with messages from individuals coming from all walks of life looking to donate alongside other establishments looking to provide support.
More information for the initiative can be found via JCI Beirut’s Instagram account.
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