One week on, Beirut marks the minute hell broke loose

By: AFP      Published: 09:24 PM, 11 Aug, 2020
One week on, Beirut marks the minute hell broke loose

At 6:08 pm in Beirut on Tuesday, church bells rang and mosques called for prayer at the precise moment a massive explosion ravaged the Lebanese capital a week earlier.

The August 4 blast left more than 160 people dead, 6,000 injured and nearly 300,000 homeless and caused a political earthquake that brought down the government on Monday.

Near the port, several hundred Lebanese gathered, mostly dressed in white, some of them from the devastated nearby Gemmayze neighbourhood. 

Waving placards with the names of victims, their nationality and a green cedar, the emblem of Lebanon, they marked the tragic moment the gigantic explosion blew up entire neighbourhoods.

Some were crying, others held back their tears with great difficulty. 

On a giant screen, videos of the blast were shown, along with scenes of the panic that followed, in the harbourside districts that have been transformed into fields of ruins. "We will not mourn, we will not wear black until we bury those in power," said one of the speakers as the list of victims' names scrolled down the screen. "All means all," the mourners chanted to call for the departure not just of the government but of the entire political class they blame for the tragedy.

Piles of debris and broken glass on floors of marble, elegant balconies with ornate ironwork smashed on the ground: the buildings of Gemmayzeh, arguably Beirut's most picturesque neighbourhood, now lie in ruins.

They were once the homes of some of Lebanon's most storied families. But many will never be lived in again, damaged beyond repair by the huge August 4 explosion at the nearby Beirut port.

AFP drone footage shot a few days after the disaster shows the kind of devastation usually only caused by earthquakes.

Some of the finest examples of Beirut's Levantine architecture, with its trademark triple-arched windows, have been torn down.

Behind the facades that tourists could see from the street, the rich interiors and priceless artefacts that documented countless family histories were also ravaged.

Portraits of illustrious ancestors, stared at by generations, now hang precariously from crumbling ruins open to the skies.

Some of the most beautiful homes in Gemmayzeh had survived 15 years of civil conflict between 1975 and 1990.

Last week, the worst peacetime disaster in Lebanon sealed their demise in a few seconds, depriving Lebanon of some of its most beloved landmarks on the eve of its centenary.