It was a normal Tuesday morning; I woke up, got some work done, went to the bank, and on my way back, at 12:15, a rebel who’s a friend calls me and says: “Layäl, head over to the Ministry of Energy and Water, we’re going in, we’re sitting there until they give us our demands, and we want you to cover it.”
For those who didn’t know, Lebanon has been going through a rough patch even given Covid-19 as well. With almost nothing to do in this country, I personally started going to the streets and taking photos with my humble camera, and to my surprise, my small hobby turned me into one of the most trusted photojournalists in the 2019 - 2020 ongoing Lebanese revolution.
This is why I was called to cover the occupation of the Ministry that day by the rebels.
I arrived at 12:45 pm; the riot police were pushing people out of the ministry, hitting protestors, and dragging them: pushing away lawyers, doctors, business people who were protesting for their basic rights in a country that’s stripped them. Little did we know, 5 hours later, disaster would strike!
The ones occupying the ministry were the women; riot police stood in front of them and were trying to talk them into leaving; when they couldn’t remove the protestors, they received orders to hit them and drag them on the ground and follow them to capture.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT AHEAD
These photos were taken moments before the explosion
While the riot police were running after rebels, lawyers, and activists, we heard the news of a fire in the port nearby.
As we looked to the skies and then watched the videos, there didn’t seem to be anything there!
While pointing to the sky to show my friend the direction to the port area, I saw a big silver translucent-ish bubble; my immediate response was yelling out: “Oh My God! What the fuck is that?” I looked at my friend. He grabbed me to him. He covers my ears, and I scream, “What is that? What is that?” While doing so, he inadvertently placed my eyesight towards the explosion, telling me, “I got you, don’t worry” “Layäl focus on me, don’t worry, I got you.”
It was then that I could see yellow dust waves coming towards me. As the wave approached, you’d hear sounds of howling winds and pressure like whirs, then, utter silence.
As I am holding on to my friend, the wave passes through me, drives us apart, and the next thing you hear is the sound of the explosion echoing everywhere, and you saw that big brick-colored cloud starting to rise.
Everyone was in panic mode; I ask my friend if he’s okay; he says, “Yes, I’m going to get the car to take people home!”
We’re on the main road facing the ministry; I run across the street where one of the lawyers picked up his phone and took a video of the ever-growing cloud. I ask, “What’s going on?” He says, “We’ve been hit!” I look around for the army that was accompanying the protest and ask the captain, “What is going on?” He says, “We don’t know; GO HOME NOW.”
Devastation, the magnitude of years of war, in one split of a second
Few things I remember from that moment, one of which is a soldier giving me orange juice as I was totally trembling from the shock. The other thing which I will never forget is the reflection of the cloud as it became situated above us, how everything looked orange; the reflections of the cars passing by, my skin, and I remember looking at my arms and examining them, and thinking, we’ve been radiated, damn it, and I’m now glowing and will die soon from toxicity!
I was this close, and couldn't get the whole explosion with my camera
Disclaimer: Apologies on the light traces, settings at that moment were for ground light and not the sky, that's all that could be salvaged
Simple thoughts from a simple human pass through your mind at times like these, that fear of the unknown, of, what have we been poisoned with? What is going to happen to me, to my loved ones, to everyone touched by this?
At that moment, none of us knew the amount of damage done until we looked around us and took to the streets...
What followed was even more horrific than the explosion experience itself; people on the roads with blood running from them, cadavers, human pieces.
Everything shattered and broken and destroyed. There was a horrible feeling as you walked the streets of Beirut, that omen of death and disaster.
Devastation, the magnitude of years of war, in one split second, took everything from us, people we knew, places we loved, danced, drank, ate, and then fell in love with. All was taken away.
I spent days following that night at my parents’ house 65 km away from the explosion site, three days of me not knowing if I am alive or dead, in shock, forgetting to eat, bathe, and sleep.
I had no sleep for three days, only the memory of that split second, playing over and over again in my mind and my ears. The sounds of howling winds still haunt me to this day, and I am triggered by them, the same for the sound of silence!
Two months after, I have just found the strength to write this. I still sleep with the lights on, for if I turn them off, a panic attack ensues, and I wake up to the sound of the explosion again, and the wind howling, back to that exact moment I saw the wave of dust coming my way, that moment when I still clearly remember, making peace with myself, that now, I am going to die from a nuclear explosion and this is it, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I know for sure; I didn’t deserve going through this.
I know many people did not either, nor did they deserve to get hurt, or lose loved ones, or even die!
Children, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, friends, and colleagues, we all deserve better, to live in a country that doesn’t give us death before we have ever lived, a country that took my parents’ youth to war and trauma, and is now trying to take mine away. Something I refuse to give into or do, actively!
I do not find peace nor safety in this country governed by those in power right now! For that, today, more than any day, I strongly believe that we must resist, we must revolt, we must not accept this, in any form or condition!
There won’t be any peace of mind or a future in this current situation’s status quo for us, our children, or our children’s’ children.
Videos are credit of Ágosto Némoth found here: https://www.newsflare.com/profile/dakter