People clean up after a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Massive explosions rocked downtown Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings and blowing out windows and doors as a giant mushroom cloud rose above the capital. Witnesses saw many people injured by flying glass and debris. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Lebanese-Canadians look for ways to help while grappling with Beirut tragedy

Officials say at least 135 people were killed and more than 5,000 were injured in the blasts

Lebanese-Canadians who watched in horror as an explosion tore through Beirut turned their attention to helping their homeland on Wednesday, even as they struggled to process their grief at the tragedy.

In Montreal’s tight-knit Lebanese community, almost everyone knows someone overseas who has been injured or killed in the tragedy, according to Lamia Charlebois, who runs a Facebook page for the community.

The blast flattened Beirut’s busy port area, sending glass flying and collapsing walls, floors and balconies for kilometres, killing at least 135 people and wounding about 5,000, according to Lebanese officials.

“We all have someone who is wounded, who is still not found, who is dead,” said Charlebois, who had a friend who was killed and another who lost an eye in the blast.

“The community is extremely sad. There’s anguish and despair,” she said. “But at the same time we’re mobilized, and we want to help every way we can.”

She said many in the Lebanese community have been donating to the Lebanese Red Cross, which is forced to handle the tragedy amid a COVID-19 crisis that has already left emergency rooms overcrowded. The Canadian Red Cross has also announced a support fund to help the country.

Mohamad Moati of Vaughan, Ont., cited fundraising as one of the few ways to feel useful from the other side of the world.

Moati was on the phone with his siblings in Lebanon’s capital when Tuesday’s blast levelled part of the city and heard the boom and the panic that followed.

“There’s a sense of mixed emotion, of guiltiness for being grateful that we’re in a great country like Canada, and at the same time feeling very guilty that we can’t be back home with family members and friends and actually help out with the disaster,” he said.

READ MORE: ‘I didn’t want to die’: Beirut resident recalls moments of panic after blast

Moati said he and others in the “Lebanese in Canada” Facebook group he founded are working to raise money in hopes they can make things a little easier for those in Lebanon.

“Everybody has been has been trying to help in their own way, whether it’s supporting with words, or supporting financially, or sharing information that can help other people that are back home,” he said.

Investigators in Lebanon began searching through the wreckage for clues to the cause of Tuesday’s explosion, and the government ordered port officials put under house arrest amid speculation that negligence was to blame.

Though Lebanese emergency responders were still combing through the rubble in search of survivors and victims on Wednesday, some details about the extent of the damage are already known.

Long-time Montreal resident Nizar Najarian was among the at least 135 who were killed, a city councillor confirmed, and the Canadian Armed Forces said one of its members was among the thousands who were injured.

Ahmad Araji, president of the Lebanese Club of Ottawa, said he was still in shock a day after the incident and found it hard to put the magnitude of the tragedy into words.

“There’s so little you can do from abroad,” he said. ”And the country has been going through a lot. This is the last thing the people needed right now, especially with the economic crisis, poverty peaking, the currency crash, COVID.”

He said his first cousin, his wife and their young daughter live in downtown Beirut and were hit by glass that shattered during the explosion.

His group has started an online fundraiser that had raised thousands of dollars by early Wednesday afternoon for the Lebanese Red Cross and for hospitals.

Charlebois said members of the community are supporting each other and have been comforted by the calls and messages of condolence from friends and strangers from across Canada.

Montreal lowered its flag to half-mast, while the city’s Lebanese consulate announced a candlelit vigil for Thursday night.

Charlebois urged the Canadian government to help by sending disaster response teams, environmental experts, and eventually building materials, “because the houses were blown up at a very big radius,” she said.

READ MORE: Abbotsford mom worried about her two kids in Beirut following explosion

Charles Aboukhaled, president of a Canadian-Lebanese business association, said discussions are already underway with the federal government to send emergency food and medical aid.

He noted that a large portion of Lebanon’s grain reserves were decimated by the blast and that Beirut’s hospitals have been damaged and may lack medicine.

The tragedy struck as Lebanon was already experiencing a severe economic crisis that has ignited mass protests in recent months. Its health system is confronting a surge of COVID-19, and there were concerns the virus could spread further as people flooded into hospitals.

Aboukhaled, like several other Lebanese-Canadians who spoke to The Canadian Press, pointed out that the country’s people have been shaped by decades of tragedy, including war and sporadic terrorist attacks.

“We’re really in a state of shock and incredulity, asking, ‘When will this nightmare end?’” he said.

While the immediate attention remains on the humanitarian effort, Aboukhaled said longer-term recovery needs to include meaningful answers about what really happened.

Currently, the investigation is focusing on how 2,500 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used in fertilizers, came to be stored at the port facility for six years.

“How can it be there were products like that, that this happened with these products, and who is responsible?” he asked.

— With files from The Associated Press

Nicole Thompson and Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

LebanonMiddle East

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Boot launches campaign with Facebook Live event

NDP candidate for riding of Penticton joined by John Horgan, Richard Cannings and others

Summerland Senior Men play all net golf event

Summerland Ladies Club On Sept. 22, the Summerland Golf and Country Ladies… Continue reading

Unisus students in Summerland participate in Terry Fox Run

More than 120 students from private school take part in 40th anniversary of run

Column: $200,000 donation to Penticton Regional Hospital more than ‘a little something’

The donation brings us closer to our goal of a second CT scanner at hospital

Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen seeks input about proposed composting facility

Organics composting facility proposed for Campbell Mountain Landfill

105 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death as health officials urge B.C. to remember safety protocols

There are currently 1268 active cases, with 3,337 people under public health monitoring

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Peachland resident finds severed bear paw on driveway

Tracie Gordon thought it was a Halloween prank, but it turned out to be a real bear paw

B.C. nurses report rise in depression, anxiety, exhaustion due to pandemic

A new UBC study looks into how the COVID-19 response has impacted frontline nurses

National child-care plan could help Canada rebound from COVID-induced economic crisis: prof

A $2 billion investment this year could help parents during second wave of pandemic

Search suspended for Indigenous elder last seen mushroom picking in northwest B.C.

Mushroom picker Thomas (Tommy) Dennis has been missing since Sept. 16

16 MLAs retiring from B.C. politics add up to $20M in pensions: Taxpayers Federation

Taxpayers pay $4 for every dollar MLAs contribute to their pensions

‘Bonnie’ and ‘Henry’ among latest litter of service dog puppies

B.C. Alberta Guide Dogs names two pups after provincial health officer

Zero new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

Five cases remain linked to an outbreak at Calvary Chapel in Kelowna

Most Read