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‘We are overwhelmed’: International aid needed after Beirut explosion, Vancouver consul says

B.C. coming together to help Lebanese community after Beirut blast
British Columbians with loved ones in the Lebanese capital are sharing heartbreaking accounts of the blast's devastating aftermath and as Rumina Daya reports, Canadians are also coming together to help with relief efforts.

The Honorary Consul of Lebanon in Vancouver says Lebanese-Canadians had a harrowing few hours trying to get in touch with friends and family after a shocking blast levelled huge portions of Beirut.

Dr. Nick Kahwaji said getting in touch with loved ones in the chaos that ensued after the blast, which killed at least 135 people and injured thousands others, was nearly impossible.

“We spent about a day and a half being frustrated and waiting to hear,” he said.

Search for survivors continues after Beirut blast
Search for survivors continues after Beirut blast

Kahwaji said members of his own family narrowly avoided getting caught in the most dangerous area, right next to the explosion. But he lost a friend, who had moved back to Lebanon from Montreal just two years ago.

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“I think Lebanon is cursed, Beirut is cursed. We finish a problem to start another one,” Kahwaji said.

Lebanese Canadians worry for loved ones overseas following explosion
Lebanese Canadians worry for loved ones overseas following explosion

“A year ago, big fires hit all the forests in Lebanon. We lost a lot of forest, and houses, and lives. After the big fire, there was a big uprising on the streets against the corruption of the past government and the past 30 years of people governing the country.”

Read more: What we know — and don’t know — about the Beirut explosion

COVID-19 hit the country earlier this year, along with a huge economic downturn and problems caused by the devaluation of the Lebanese pound. Right now, US$1 is equal to about 1,500 Lebanese pounds.

Then came the explosion.

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“It was beyond explanation. It came at a time when we have a collapsed economy, it came at a time when the hospitals are struggling to treat COVID-19 patients. And now we are overwhelmed.”

Read more: Beirut explosion sweeps over bride’s photoshoot in dramatic video

Multiple hospitals have been too damaged to admit new patients, according to the New York Times, and other medical facilities have been destroyed. Health-care workers were also among those killed.

Approximately 300,000 people have been left homeless and Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud has told Arab media outlets that losses are estimated upwards of $10 billion.

Read more: Lebanon’s economy spirals out of control amid coronavirus, calls for government reform

In a city on the cusp of economic collapse, Kahwaji said international aid is needed immediately, including from Canada.

“Beirut was the jewel of the Middle East. It has a big role to do between east and west as a bridge and it needs to be rebuilt,” he said.

In a tweet Wednesday evening, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Canada is “providing an initial $5 million in humanitarian [assistance] for the people of Lebanon.”
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Meanwhile, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province is prepared to do what it can to help the people of Lebanon, and said he would raise the question with Premier John Horgan.

“I think some people forget this, where events in one part of the world affect all of us,” Dix told an unrelated news conference on Wednesday.

“And we’ve seen that in the last number of months, where we’re working together in a world pandemic. And so supporting one another in these times is very important.”

Beirut explosion: Wedding couple revisits square where blast interrupted bridal photoshoot
Beirut explosion: Wedding couple revisits square where blast interrupted bridal photoshoot

Other countries have started to send medical personnel and supplies and other relief to aid in the recovery and clean-up efforts, including France, Germany and Poland. International organizations including the U.N. and the World Food Program are also sending emergency assistance.

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Khawaji is appealing to members of the Lebanese diaspora in B.C. to contribute to the Lebanese Red Cross.

Read more: Canada to provide $5M to Lebanon after deadly blasts: Champagne

Meanwhile, an online fundraiser started in Mississauga, Ont., is trying to raise $10,000 for relief efforts for people who were displaced by the explosion.

“When you see the whole city is down… me personally, I’m trying to think of others. Of the people who are still looking for their loved ones, who don’t know where they are, of the people who actually lost their kids or lost their father,” organizer Saja AlGharib told Global News.

‘We’re trying to maybe send something to those people who — you know, you wake up into a normal day and you end up homeless. No shelter, no food, no water. You have nothing, you’re literally on the ground. And I don’t know what to say to that.”

—  With files from Hannah Jackson