‘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


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Middle East

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Art+Earth Festival gets growing this weekend

Find out what events are in-person and what’s happening online

Vancouver Island under a thunderstorm watch tonight

Environment Canada forecasts downpour and possible thunder and lightning

VIJHL season could start Oct. 1, says league president

League awaiting final approval from local health authorities and viaSport

Vancouver Island NDP MP responds to Liberal’s throne speech

’Feds say nice things but when it comes to taking action it’s a different story’ says North Island- Powell River MP, Rachel Blaney

B.C. reports 91 new cases as officials remain worried over ‘clusters of COVID-19

There have now been a total of 8,395 cases in B.C. since the pandemic began

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

First 8 months of fatal overdoses in B.C. have now exceeded 2019 death toll

Nine people died every two days in August, BC Coroners Service data shows

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Liberal effort to reset policy agenda panned by rivals as too much talk, not action

Trudeau said it’s ‘all too likely’ families won’t be able to gather for Thanksgiving next month

‘Show us the money’ for cannabis, local governments tell B.C.

Municipal tax, transit revenues falling as costs rise

Cops for Cancer: COVID-19 can’t stop Tour de Rock

‘having the chance to come back and ride this year means everything to me’

Most Read