'Lots of destruction, but this is the future': Photos inside the homes of Beirut
It was in the early evening of Aug. 4 when two blasts convulsed Beirut. First, onlookers saw a major fire at the Mediterranean port. Then there was an explosion, and then another, shooting seismic waves through Lebanon's capital and a huge mushroom cloud into the sky.
More than 200 people died and thousands were injured. The scale of devastation — of buildings, infrastructure and people's livelihoods — is difficult to capture as residents take stock of the damage.
Here is a selection of photographs showing Beirut residents in their destroyed home or workplace, along with a glimpse of their experiences in their own words.
"Here is lots of destruction, but this is the future," says one of the subjects, engineer Riad al-Assaad, who is trying to rebuild. "I see that we have a mission."
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"I was sitting right where you photographed me when the blast occurred. Before I knew it, I was flown to the front door of my house. I woke up and struggled to take the stairs down to the street. ... I began walking towards Hotel Dieu Hospital, which took about 40 minutes to reach as nobody on the road was able to offer me a ride. The emergency room was flooded with blood, screams and severely injured people. I waited there from 7 p.m. till 2 a.m. for someone to stitch me up."
Pointing at the floor where his face mask and bloody clothes were, he said, "Look at all my blood. I don't know how I came out of this alive."
Dr. Peter Noun
"I had left the hospital 30 minutes before the blast, after checking in on all the patients. Once the explosion happened, I instantly came back to help evacuate all the patients from the hospital and dispatch them to another hospital. It was a disaster and I was beyond words. Usually, we have a lot of outpatients coming in and out to receive their treatments, but those treatments luckily end at 4 p.m., so we only had nine inpatients on the floor. Unfortunately, we lost one patient's father who was trying to protect his child from the blast, and two other parents are also in the intensive care unit."
"Villa Sehnaoui was built around 1920 and was bought by Mitri Sehnaoui in 1930. There is so much history, love and memories behind each room for many generations. We could only recover a few valuable things, all the jars from the Phoenician era were left untouched. What you see here is lots of destruction, but this is the future. I see that we have a mission — a mission to preserve our past for the future generations to see how we survived. This is a house of spirits, it has seen 100 years of history. What we are trying to do is reconstruct this house. It's a momentous job, but so is rebuilding a country. So we are reaching out to the younger generation and, with their help and technical abilities, we can rebuild. It's not enough to just rebuild but also to believe and to fight for justice."
"I've had a recurrent nightmare ever since I was a kid: A tsunami takes over and all I can do is look for my sister to rescue her. I worried about her because I never thought I'd have to go through such a nightmare all alone. And that I did, on Aug. 4. I was the last one to stay at the art gallery. A minute before the explosion, I needed to use the bathroom. The shaking blue painted walls echoed the tsunami waves from my nightmares. 'No, not like this,' I said to myself, as I threw myself on the floor and tried to protect my head under the toilet. I can't even remember the sound of the blast, similar to the silence you feel when you're under a crashing wave. When I got out of that bathroom, I realized that the world I built in this country came crashing down. I walked all the way home, my sandals crushing over the shimmering glass shards that led to whatever was left of my 70-square-meter apartment in Pasteur. The coldness hits you when you silence the screams and cries for help filling the smokey air of the broken city. The moment I saw my building in ruins, I felt a heartbreak like no other. I knew my apartment was completely gone when I saw pictures from my family album and little drawings my boyfriend drew of me on A5 yellow paper scattered on every floor. I live on the third floor. My home is gone and my heart is crushed and all I can see are my favorite memories drowning in glass. In that moment, I realized that my recurrent nightmare, looking for my sister, was a metaphor. As I saw our 5- and 4-year-old selves resting on the echoes of glimmering ocean hues, I realized that maybe my nightmares were telling me I should never have to be alone, and to join the rest of my family who are safe and sound because they've fled this catastrophe long before it happened."
Habeb al-Hamad Azab
Habeb al-Hamad Azab is a Syrian refugee who came to Lebanon with his family in hopes of building a safe future. The explosions served a heavy blow to those hopes. His children were at home when the blasts happened and were unharmed. But now he has lost his house in Beirut's Mar Mikhael neighborhood and his family had to flee to a refugee camp because they have nowhere else to go.
Plastik is an independent publication, the Middle East's first visual magazine championing young artists and queer individuals from the Middle East and the world. The headquarters were destroyed.
"Plastik's mere existence was to add colors and light to a war-torn city. When I first walked into this space, I was 21. I fell in love with it and gambled everything I had to have it. It's in this happy place that I started Plastik and my dreams took off. This space kept coming back to Beirut despite the repeated heartbreak of living in this city. This is where I met the love of my life and some of my happiest memories. Yes, I am grateful that my team and loved ones are all safe, I am grateful to all the workers that guarded my space when I didn't have the mental or physical capacity to do so. But today I stand here, numb and unable to feel anything, to be honest. I want to work on my mental health but it's impossible as long as I'm trapped in this country. The hardest thing is to feel unsafe in your own home, in your own country."
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