07 August 2021, The Tablet

One year after explosion, Lebanon unites in grief

One year after explosion, Lebanon unites in grief

The first anniversary of the port explosion in Beirut, Lebanon.
Elisa Gestri/Sipa

Lebanon united in collective mourning to mark the one-year anniversary of the devastating Beirut port explosion on August 4 2020, holding remembrance services, candlelit vigils, marches and protests to commemorate victims and demand justice. 

Thousands of Lebanese poured onto the streets of Beirut in grief, prayer, as well as anger. The government declared an official day of mourning, closing all shops, state offices, banks and services. A minute of silence was held a 6.07pm, the exact moment of the blast, followed by a rendition of the national anthem. Both grief and dismay were palpable, as the day ended in violent clashes with security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protestors attempting to storm parliament buildings. 

Beirut was catapulted into catastrophe last August when hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate detonated. The highly explosive fertiliser had been haphazardly stored in a warehouse in the port for six years. It caused an explosion of a nuclear dimension, sending a ginormous mushroom cloud into the sky that ripped through the capital city, damaging 77,000 housing units, displacing 300,000 people, injuring 6,500 and killing over 214 and causing nationwide trauma. 

Many Lebanese are angered by the lack of accountability over the blast, particularly as it was revealed in the weeks after that top government figures were aware of the dangerous chemicals' existence so close to residential areas. 

One of the worst hit was the historic Christian neighbourhood of Achrafieh in east Beirut, where two major hospitals were levelled, including St George’s Hospital University Medical Center. A memorial service was held at the hospital on the one year anniversary by Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elias Audi, the Metropolitan bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch for the Archdiocese of Beirut with ten other priests. 

Just 0.6 miles away from the epicentre, the blast ravaged the hospital, leaving hundreds wounded and killing 22. It instantly became non-functional, just as the city was desperate for emergency services. 

Photographs of four young nurses who died were laid out at the ceremony, surrounded by wreathes, candles, and bread loaves, traditional at Greek Orthodox services, where Audi spoke of “the will of life and belief” that gave people strength during the emergency. He also commented on the investigation into the cause of the explosion, which is mired in controversy. He said he regretted that it was yet to yield any answers a year on, despite President Michel Aoun promising at the time that there would be “results within five days”. 

“To know the facts and who did this will help us heal our sadness and pain...we are praying and requesting they continue with the investigation.” Senior politicians, including Aoun and caretaker Prime Minister Hasan Diab are widely blamed for hampering and delaying the probe, in keeping with Lebanon’s culture of impunity. “They should know too that there is no one above the rules,” Audi said. 

Tensions are high in the Middle Eastern nation which has been without a fully functioning government for 12 months, when the last one resigned following the explosion. It has also been undergoing what the World Bank called possibly one of the “top three most severe financial crises globally since the mid-nineteenth century.” It has dramatically sunk living conditions for much of the six million population, a third of whom are Christian, alongside Muslims and Druze.  

Pope Francis prayed for Lebanon on the anniversary day and wished for its return as “a message of brotherhood, a message of peace for all the Middle East”. Francis, who hosted the country’s church leaders at the Vatican in July, reiterated his “great” desire to visit the country. 



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