Stories

Beirut explosion: “I thought the building would collapse”

Curt Tyler, Country Director in Lebanon, shares what it was like on the ground in Beirut following the explosion on August 4, and what Medair is doing to help people recover.

Curt Tyler, Country Director in Lebanon, was in an elevator on August 4 when the explosion happened in Beirut. He was excited to be reunited with his wife after being separated for five months because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. But their plans to enjoy a couple of days of rest together were instantly ruined.

“I thought the building would collapse. It was a terrifying moment,” Curt said.

The explosion is the latest in a series of crises to hit the country in the last several years—from shouldering the weight of the Syrian refugee crisis, to a socio-economic crisis that has thrown the country into freefall, to the arrival of COVID-19. The compounding crisis is exacerbating the needs of people and putting immense pressure on all parts of society.

Medair has already begun providing emergency shelter and mental health support to those affected in Beirut. Curt Tyler explains what it has been like on the ground since the blast:

 

What was it like in those hours following the explosion?

It was utter chaos. It took several hours to figure out what had happened, and a lot of rumours were circulating around. We didn’t know if it was an attack or a bomb. People were frantic. Buildings were heavily damaged. Smashed cars lay abandoned in the street and windows and doors were completely blown out. Heaps of rubbish were strewn throughout the streets.

 

How is the Medair team in Lebanon coping following the blast?

Fortunately, our team was all in Zahle, which is far from where the blast took place. We had one staff member in Beirut at the time who was slightly injured, but she’s well and helping with the response.

It has been traumatic for everyone involved, so we’ve ensured staff have access to mental health counselling. But the team is amazing and working hard to help with the response.

 

What are the most urgent needs you see resulting from the explosion?

The needs are enormous. More than 300,000 people are now homeless.  People need mental health support to address the trauma they’ve experienced. They need help repairing their homes. Many will need cash assistance to help pay for rent and other essentials. Hospitals and health care centres will need help with repairs, restocking medications, and more.

The number of COVID-19 cases is increasingly every day at an alarming rate. Safety will be our biggest concern moving forward.

 

What is Medair doing to help people in Beirut recover?

Soon after the blast, our team met to discuss a response. We believe partnering with other humanitarians is key, so we contacted Arcenciel—a local non-governmental organisation in Beirut we have partnered with before—and made plans to go out into the community together to gather information and see what people need to recover.

Within 36 hours, we had teams going into Beirut’s worst damaged areas to assess needs and help with the clean-up efforts.

We are also coordinating with the InterAgency systems, and other organisations who specialise in shelter to assess the damage and distribute materials so people can start to repair their homes.  We will also conduct minor repairs and rehabilitation on homes to ensure they are safe and accessible, particularly for those people with specific needs.  Cash assistance will be provided for extremely vulnerable households to pay rent and make basic repairs to their homes. We will help to rehabilitate health facilities damaged in the explosion and provide equipment, while also providing mental health support to people impacted and training community health volunteers to provide Psychological First Aid.  Our Information Management team is highly respected in Lebanon and is part of the assessment and analysis core group.

 

What can Medair uniquely do to help recovery efforts?

Medair has a unique opportunity to use its strengths in shelter, health, information management, and mental health support to help people in Beirut recover.

In shelter specifically, we’re setting the standard for others to follow to make sure people don’t just receive assistance, but receive the highest quality assistance.

 

What can Medair’s supporters do to help?

It’s going to take a concerted, collective effort to rebuild Lebanon.  The challenges are mind boggling and we are doing what we can to make a difference in people’s lives.

We need your financial support in Lebanon now more than ever. We need more resources to meet the enormous needs. Supporters can be confident that we are using donations in the best way possible to meet the most urgent needs.

And please pray with and for us. We need prayer for safety, wisdom in planning and implementing our response, and strength to sustain us through the long days.

The team, led by our national staff, is unbelievably amazing.  We’re working nonstop. They’re committed to doing whatever it takes to help people through this crisis. Thank you to all our supporters who are making this response possible.

The massive explosion at the Port of Beirut on August 4 killed at least 178 people, injured more than 6000, and left around 300,000 people homeless.

People need your support to recover. Please do what you can to help people suffering in Lebanon right now.