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

Extensive damage shows at the site of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Residents of Beirut stunned, sleepless and stoic emerged Wednesday from the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion searching for missing relatives, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what’s left of their homes. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A man, top left, takes pictures with a mobile phone as he stands on a building that was damaged by an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Residents of Beirut stunned, sleepless and stoic emerged Wednesday from the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion searching for missing relatives, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what’s left of their homes. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Lebanese Druze clerics checks damaged cars, a day after an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Residents of Beirut stunned, sleepless and stoic emerged Wednesday from the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion searching for missing relatives, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what’s left of their homes. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Rawane Al Zahed and her husband Mazen Alaouie are shown in a handout photo. Al Zahed remembers running through her home to check on her family after she heard blasts rip through Beirut and felt the ground shake beneath her feet. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Rawane Al Zahed MANDATORY CREDIT
People drive past buildings and cars that were damaged in Tuesday’s massive explosion in the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The explosion flattened much of a port and damaged buildings across Beirut, sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. In addition to those who died, more than 3,000 other people were injured, with bodies buried in the rubble, officials said. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Rawane Al Zahed remembers running through her home to check on her family after she heard blasts rip through Beirut and felt the ground shake beneath her feet.

Al Zahed, who has filed paperwork to join her husband — a permanent resident of Canada — in Vancouver, lives about five kilometres from the site of the blast that killed at least 100 on Tuesday and wounded thousands.

A long-time Montreal resident is among the dead, a city councillor said, and the federal government confirmed a member of the Canadian Armed Forces suffered injuries that are not life-threatening.

Al Zahed, 24, said she felt two explosions a few seconds apart from each other. The first felt like an earthquake, while the second sent shockwaves through the fifth-floor apartment where she lives with her family.

“I was super afraid,” Al Zahed said. ”I didn’t want to die. I was screaming, ‘I don’t want to die now.’”

That second explosion left a wood and iron door cracked, and shattered the television screen in her house, she said.

Al Zahed said she could hear people screaming on the floors and streets below her apartment, even as windows shattered and a few balconies collapsed.

There was another moment of panic when her husband couldn’t get through to her because she was getting calls from other friends and family, she said.

Later that night, Al Zahed said she called her husband. He tried to lighten the mood with a couple jokes, but she said she was still far too panicked to sleep.

“I wake up, I tweet. I wake up, I open Facebook. I want to see what’s happening,” she said. ”All I can think of (is) how I ran. All I can remember (is) when I ran.”

What caused the blast remains unclear, but it appears to have been triggered by a fire and it struck with the force of an earthquake.

READ MORE: Huge explosions rock Beirut with widespread damage, injuries

It was the most powerful explosion ever seen in the city, which was split in half by the 1975-1990 civil war and has endured conflicts with neighbouring Israel and periodic bombings and terror attacks.

There was no evidence the explosion was an attack. Instead, many Lebanese blamed it on decades of corruption and poor governance by the entrenched political class that has ruled the tiny Mediterranean country since the civil war.

Lebanon was 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.

Al Zahed said she’s still trying to come to terms with what happened, noting that because of her age, she was spared from much of Lebanon’s recent tragedy.

“I’m 24 years old. I didn’t live through any other big Lebanese wars,” Al Zahed said. “I was too young for the one in 2006, and I didn’t pass through any trauma before like this one. It was really scary.”

— With files from The Associated Press

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


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