BEIRUT: Residents and businesses are counting the cost of a devastating blast that destroyed vast swathes of the city, as relief work continues in the affected areas.
The Aug. 4 explosion in the Port of Beirut killed at least 170 people and injured thousands. More than 80,000 homes have been damaged.
On Sunday people were removing wreckage from the main streets of Beirut’s neighborhoods that were either destroyed or damaged by the explosion. The relief work has focused on clearing out houses, shops and other businesses that are still filled with rubble.
But the repair and restoration work has not yet started as it is waiting on a field survey from engineers’ committees and NGOs.
Residents affected by the blast said they no longer needed food aid, but help to repair their homes before winter. They have replaced windows with nylon coils, or blocked the doors of their damaged homes with wooden panels and temporary locks. Some are staying in their homes despite the damage caused because they have nowhere else to go.
The head of the Lebanese Order of Physicians in Beirut, Sharaf Abu Sharaf, said that 2,000 doctors had been affected, either through direct physical injury or severe damage to their clinics.
There are 13,000 doctors affiliated to the syndicate, and he feared the departure of doctors and nurses from Lebanon, saying: “Some of them have already begun to emigrate.”
Three major hospitals were destroyed by the explosion, while three others were partly damaged. Geitaoui Hospital was one of those that was badly affected and it is the only hospital in Lebanon that specializes in treating burns. It is the first time the hospital has been damaged, as it has survived all the wars in Lebanon since 1975.
Abu Sharaf announced the establishment of a crisis unit, in cooperation with the World Health Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the World Bank, to receive aid after conducting a field study on the damage to doctors and their clinics.
As the dust settled from the destruction of Beirut’s seafront and its surrounding neighborhoods, it also revealed the destruction of thousands of businesses including 1,408 restaurants, clubs, and patisseries in Greater Beirut. According to a national syndicate representing them, some of these places were completely destroyed while others were partly damaged.
The head of the Syndicate of Owners of Restaurants, Cafés, Nightclubs and Pastries in Lebanon, Tony Ramy, estimated the losses at $315 million.
“On the 25th of this month, the syndicate will launch an initiative to obtain regional and international assistance, because the owners of these institutions are unable to repair and renovate their stores,” he told Arab News. “There is a need for fresh dollars, and nobody can secure this liquidity in light of the banking restrictions imposed on depositors and because of the collapse of the local currency against the dollar, in addition to the halt of business and therefore the lack of income.”
The Lebanese Army said that 30 foreign countries have so far provided aid and that dozens of planes were landing daily at Beirut airport. These countries include poorer nations such Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, which send hundreds of their nationals to work in Lebanon.
A top US official described the tragic event of Aug. 4 as a “symptom of the illnesses that lay in Lebanon.”
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale made the remark at the end of a three-day visit to Beirut, reiterating the international community’s calls for a credible and transparent investigation into the explosion’s circumstances.
“These illnesses have lasted for a very long time, and almost everyone in power bears a certain extent of responsibility for them. I am talking about decades of mismanagement, corruption, and the repeated failure of Lebanese leaders to enact meaningful and sustainable reforms.”
He urged political leaders to respond to the demands of the Lebanese people for “good governance, sound economic and financial reform, and an end to the rampant corruption” that had stifled Lebanon’s energy.
“There should be no (financial) bailout for Lebanon,” he added. “America and its international partners will respond to systemic reforms with sustained financial support when they see Lebanese leaders committed to real change in word and deed. But we cannot, and will not, try to dictate any outcome. This is Lebanon’s moment to define a Lebanese – non-foreign – vision for Lebanon. What kind of Lebanon do you have and what kind of Lebanon do you wish for? Only the Lebanese can answer this question.”