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What happened to… the Beirut explosion?

FILE - In this Aug 5, 2020 file photo, a drone camera captures the scene of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. The Aug. 4 blast at Beirut's port tore through the city at 6:07 p.m., destroying entire neighbourhoods and killing scores of people. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File). HM BH

On this episode of What happened to…? Erica Vella revisits the explosion in Beirut in August 2020 that killed over 200 people and injured thousands.

Elias Tarabay remembers Aug. 4, 2020, clearly. He arrived home after having a late lunch with a friend. He was living in Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon. His house had a balcony that looked out at the city’s ports.

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Just as he settled in, he heard a loud explosion.

“I was watching TV. I remember … the first explosion, I ran to the balcony and saw actual smoke coming out of the silos. I knew there was an explosion in the port. So I started filming with my phone, with my camera,” he said.

READ MORE: Victims seek justice as Lebanon marks 1 year since fatal Beirut explosion

Tarabay was working as an editor for a local newspaper at the time and he thought he would take the video to send back to his office.

“They can run it on our online website or something and after a couple of minutes of filming, the big thing happened,” he said.

A second large explosion rocked the Beirut port.

“It looked like some sort of a crescendo and light,” he said.

Read more: Lebanon’s prime minister among those charged with negligence in Beirut explosion

A friend was staying with him at his two-storey home.

“The whole thing collapsed on us,” he recalled. Had they been outside on his balcony, they would have fallen as the balcony was gone. Fortunately, they were inside in his living room.

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“The only thing I remember is waking up. A couple of seconds after the explosion, I can still taste the whole gravel thing under my tongue.”

The explosion killed at least 214 people, according to official records. Thousands were injured.

It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history — the result of hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate igniting after a fire broke out. The explosion tore through the city with such force that it caused a tremor across the entire country that was heard and felt as far away as the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, more than 200 kilometres away.

It would soon emerge in documents that the highly combustible nitrates had been haphazardly stored at a port warehouse alongside other flammable material since 2014 — and that multiple high-level officials over the years knew of its presence and did nothing.

“When the explosion happened, there was this disbelief, the first few days of, Oh my god, what happened?” recalled Ruby Daghar, a professor of international development with the University of Ottawa.

“This is the worst thing that we’ve ever witnessed and people across the religious divide were affected. So it wasn’t like one community over another.”

The event galvanized people to demonstrate in the streets, asking for government accountability, she said.

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READ MORE: Multiple Lebanese officials ‘criminally negligent’ for Beirut blast: Human Rights Watch

Daghar said in the days following the explosion, several cabinet members announced their resignation. On Aug. 10, 2020, Beirut’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, announced he would be stepping down from his position.

“The problem with the resignation was that while they resigned officially, they remained in government,” she said.

On this episode of What happened to …? Erica Vella revisits the days that followed the deadly blast and finds out if anyone has been held accountable. She also learns how Lebanon’s economic crisis has made it difficult for the country to rebuild.

— With files from the Associated Press

Contact:

Email: erica.vella@globalnews.ca

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