“So many people are now without a home”: life in Beirut after the explosion
Red Cross staff member Siel was staying two kilometres from the port where the explosion occurred on 4 August. Here, she explains how the Lebanese Red Cross and the city’s people are responding
Last updated 4 August 2023
As footage of the massive explosion that shook the city on 4 August has made its way around the globe, the people of Beirut have started to pick up the pieces.
Siel, a British Red Cross programme officer currently working in the city, says there is a sense of solidarity and sadness following the blast, which killed 200 people and injured over 5,000.
“The first evening was devastating,” said Siel. “People were very, very sad and traumatised. I think there’s a sense it’s just another thing that Lebanon has to go through and they’ve suffered so much already. But you can already see lots of people cleaning up the streets, helping out.”
Panic and confusion
Siel was working from her apartment when the explosion happened and initially thought something had happened to the building she was in. “The impact reverberated through the whole building,” said Siel. “I turned around and was looking in the apartment and the windows were shattered everywhere. One of the door frames had blown off. My first instinct was ‘OK, I need to get out of here’”.
Glass had fallen across the chair and table she had been sat at just moments earlier. “I was quite lucky that I got up from my chair and went to the front door when I did, otherwise I might have been hit quite badly by the window that came crashing down,” said Siel.
Immediately after the blast, there was panic and confusion among Siel’s neighbours, who still thought that the explosion had happened close by.
“No one really knew what was happening,” she said. “I was downstairs with all the other people from my building and we were just figuring out what to do and treating some people who had some minor cuts.”
It soon became clear that the damage was more widespread than Siel and her neighbours initially thought. “My colleague’s apartment was completely destroyed,” she said. “We could see flames and smoke coming from the port. We walked past the hospital and there was a lot of destruction there, lots of people shouting and crying and bleeding.”
The Lebanese Red Cross's response
The Lebanese Red Cross were immediately involved in the recovery response after the blast, sending 75 ambulances and all of its emergency medical support staff to scenes across the city.
“They quickly set up places for people to donate blood because hospitals were running out very quickly,” said Siel. “They’ve also been involved in search and rescue, looking for survivors. So many people are now without a home and so the Lebanese Red Cross have also set up shelters for those who have lost their homes, supporting them with basic necessities, food and clean water.”
Before the explosion, Lebanon was already in crisis. Along with an economic collapse, the country was dealing with an increasing number of coronavirus infections. A scheduled lockdown intended to curb the spread of the virus was postponed after the blast, when the country instead was put into a two-week state of emergency.
An urgent need for help
The British Red Cross has launched the Beirut Emergency Appeal to support the Lebanese Red Cross in reaching as many people as possible. The need is urgent.
Though thousands of people are helping wherever they can around the city, many have themselves been left homeless. The number of people displaced is currently reported as 300,000.
“There’s been loads of volunteers out on the streets moving rubble and cleaning up,” said Siel. “People in Beirut are really, really struggling. Donating is the number one thing you can do right now.”
One Red Cross delegate on the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut