Beirut explosion: 2 people describe being caught up in blast – Business Insider
  • Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, was devastated by a huge explosion Tuesday that has upended the lives of its residents.
  • Two people caught up in the blast told Business Insider about their experience.
  • One was driving near the center of the blast at Beirut’s port. She felt the explosion in her body before seeing or hearing it.
  • The other was a medical resident at a Beirut hospital that was overwhelmed with injuries. He worked to 2 a.m.
  • “We saw so much pain in people’s eyes,” he said.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — As on any ordinary day, Rayane left her office in Beirut at 6 p.m.

A few minutes after getting in her car, she felt numbness and pressure in her body. It was the first she knew of the explosion that devastated the Lebanese capital on Tuesday.

“I felt a pressure in my ears and my stomach,” she told Business Insider. She asked that only her first name be used.

“I then heard a large bang and my car jump from one side to the other.”

Rayane was a stone’s throw away from the Beirut port where the blast took place. At least 100 people have been killed and 4,000 others wounded by the explosion.

The blast began with a smaller explosion, soon followed by the enormous blast that devastated much of the city.

Firefighters evacuating a wounded man from the scene of the explosion in Beirut on Tuesday.

ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images


Between the first explosion and the second, from her car Rayane saw workers running away, and she decided to flee. “I knew something was up, and the first thing that immediately comes to mind is that it’s an explosion,” she said. “Cars around me started to honk and speed as well.”

A former journalist, she was reminded of reporting on a twin suicide bombing in Beirut’s southern suburbs several years ago, where one blast was soon followed by another.

She took no chances, and left. “At that point my ears had popped and my fingers went numb — but I kept driving,” she said.

“There were so many car accidents because of people speeding and panicking,” Rayane recalled.

Soon she got to the Zalka district where she lives, just north of the port.

Residential buildings, factories, and storefronts were damaged, with a blanket of glass shards on the streets.

A helicopter putting out a fire at the scene of Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut.

STR/AFP via Getty Images


“I turned around and saw the red plume of smoke,” she said. At first it seemed to her as if the color were from the sunset over the Mediterranean.

But preliminary findings from the Lebanese government said the explosion was caused by the explosive chemical ammonium nitrate, which produces a red color when it combusts.

Before the government’s announcement, the social-media feeds and media reports across Lebanon were full of rumors: everything from internal bombing plots to targeted Israeli airstrikes.

And with Lebanon no stranger to conflict and civil strife, many thought the blast could be the start of a war.

“I thought it might be an explosion from a shipment or fuel or something,” Rayane said, who at that point was anxiously waiting outside her damaged apartment building, which she worried could collapse.

A wounded man being helped by a firefighter near the scene of the explosion on Tuesday.

ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images


As she called family members and friends to see whether they were OK, she was shocked at how the first thought on everyone’s mind was violent conflict. “My friend told me, ‘Pack your bags, and get ready to become a refugee.'”

Several hours later, Rayane felt more at ease and went upstairs. She and her family were not hurt.

At about the same time, Beirut’s emergency rooms were chaotic. Some of the capital’s hospitals were hit so hard by the blast that they could no longer operate.

The remaining hospitals struggled to handle the influx.

Families at the American University of Beirut Medical Center scuffled with security forces as they frantically tried to make their way in.

A view of the damaged Beirut neighborhood of Mar Mikhael on Wednesday in the aftermath of the explosion.

PATRICK BAZ/AFP via Getty Images


A medical resident at another Beirut hospital said the scene before him was apocalyptic.

He spoke with Business Insider anonymously because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“I have never seen a tragedy so huge, with so many people dying at the same time,” he said over the phone, his voice trembling.

“Med school does prepare us for these horrific scenarios, but one would never expect to see anything like this.”

Patients covered in blood rushed to the hospital in droves, he said. Many were treated and stitched on the spot in any available corner.

“We were scared — we didn’t know what to do at first,” he said at the end of a shift that had continued until 2 a.m.

“We saw so much pain in people’s eyes. It makes you question in this life.”

Lebanon’s hospitals, most of which are private, were already on their last legs.

The country’s financial crisis has left them paralyzed, struggling to import medical supplies from basic protective equipment to live-saving medicines.

The aftermath of the blast seen Wednesday.

ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images


Just last week, the head of the government-run Rafic Hariri University Hospital said its intensive-care unit was almost full because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You see three patients who had all suffered from cardiac arrest,” the medical resident said. “Then all of a sudden you need to jump to someone who is suffering from severe head trauma at the same time.”

“We didn’t have the capacity to properly admit and register everyone coming into the hospital,” he added.

As a result, many of the wounded went missing. Those fearing for the lives of their loved ones took advantage of an ad-hoc Instagram account called “Locating Victims.”

A post shared by LOCATING VICTIMS (@locatevictimsbeirut)

“We are not made to go through this,” the distraught man said. “There is enough tragedy in this country.”


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