Horrific blasts stun Lebanese community
Ottawa is nearly 9,000 kilometres from Beirut, but the shock wave from Tuesday’s massive explosions was felt here like a punch to the gut.
Father Nektarios Najjar had planned a mass at St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral on Tuesday evening for medical workers and those affected by the COVID -19 pandemic, but said his prayers to the thousands of injured and the unknown number of dead from the devastating blasts in Beirut’s port.
“Beirut is not a big city in size, but it’s loaded with people,” Najjar said. “It’s the place where everyone goes to find work or to study. I’ve heard that there was damage up to 15 miles (24 kilometres) away. That means that two-thirds of all the people in the country have been affected.”
If a similar explosion were to happen on Parliament Hill, there would be damage as far west as the Canadian Tire Centre, east to Cumberland and south to Greely.
Najjar’s parents and siblings live just four kilometres from the blast site. They weren’t injured, but the explosion shattered the glass of the store they operate.
“I know people in Beirut who have died,” Najjar said. “But it’s the number of people who say they’re looking for someone who’s missing. They can’t find them.”
“There are no words to describe what’s happening now,” said Ahmad Arajii, president of the Lebanese Club of Ottawa. “It’s horrific. I’ve never seen Lebanon like this in my life. It’s worse than it was during the civil war.”
Hospitals in Beirut have been overwhelmed with the injured, many of them cut by flying glass. The death toll stood at more than 70 Tuesday evening, but it seemed inevitable that it would rise as rescuers reached more areas of the ruined city. At least 4,000 people were injured, according to figures available Tuesday night.
Tuesday morning, Arajii saw videos of the explosion online. Then his phone began to ring.
“Most of my family is in Lebanon,” he said. “Some of them were affected directly, their windows were shattered and their kids hospitalized. The hospitals aren’t even able to take in the insane amount of wounded people. It’s horrible.”
Many members of Arajii’s family in the Bekaa Valley, about 50 kilometres east of Beirut, heard and felt the concussion from the blast, he said. He has friends in Cyprus, more than 200 kilometres to the west in the Mediterranean Sea, who saw and heard the explosion.
Several members of the Lebanese Club of Ottawa’s board of directors are in Lebanon on vacation, but all are OK, he said.
“There’s an urgent need for blood,” he said. “We’re trying to tell everyone we know to tell everyone they know to go give blood.”
Compounding Lebanon’s misery is the ongoing COVID -19 pandemic and a collapsing economy that has pushed many Lebanese into poverty and frozen the country’s banking system.
Canadians can’t give their blood, but the Lebanese club quickly set up a GoFundMe campaign that will try to raise $20,000 to help those affected by the tragedy.
And while the congregants of St. Elias offered their prayers, Najjar also said money is urgently needed. He suggested people donate to the Lebanese Red Cross, which is working on the ground in the city, helping survivors and organizing blood donations.
“It’s the fastest and easiest thing to do,” he said.
And while the human tragedy is enormous, Najjar said the blast will leave devastating physical scars on the country too.
“Beirut is a very ancient and a very beautiful city. And from the pictures that I’m seeing today, a lot of those buildings, which are of historic and archeological value, have been destroyed . ... Add that to the fact that they are already having an economic crisis and in the midst of a pandemic, I think it’s a recipe for one of the most challenging times in history for the country.” email@example.com