Aid workers in Beirut have laid bare the sheer devastation left by a sea port explosion that ripped through the city.

Rescue teams, emergency workers, and charity volunteers have been working tirelessly around the clock to support the hundreds of thousands who have been left homeless, wounded, or grieving the loss of loved ones.

The blast, which occurred on Tuesday evening killing more than 135 people, has come at a time when the country is already ‘on its knees’ grappling with its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, along with a surge in coronavirus cases. Aid workers on the ground said they are worried the country may not recover, as they launched emergency appeals.

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Islamic Relief Lebanon Country Director, Nidal Ali, told Metro.co.uk: ‘This is a blast not only to the sea port but to the whole country. I’ve lived through two wars before in Lebanon but I’ve never seen something like this.

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‘This blast is different – the devastation, the scale of the damage, the destruction. These people are like refugees displaced in their own city.’

The boss of the INGO, which was founded in Birmingham, is worried food and medical supplies will soon dry up, as Beirut’s sea port was the country’s main gateway for importing goods. Although a port in the northern city of Tripoli has been assigned to bring in supplies, Nidal said its capacity is about a tenth of Beirut’s.

He said: ‘What will happen is we will see starvation on the streets. The shelves will be empty in one week, two, maybe three, and after that people will be on the street looking for something to eat.

‘We don’t have the capacity to import enough food for the people. You can’t bring by aeroplanes what you used to bring by ship. Containers and whole ships were lost in the sea.’

The father-of-four, who lives about 2km away from the centre of the explosion, said he was still picking out shrapnel and small shards of glass buried into his head the next day.

He said: ‘I was having a coffee with my wife and my four-year-old daughter in the living room and suddenly we felt something like an earthquake. It felt like somebody was holding the building in his hand and shaking it strongly.

‘My wife got scared and wanted to switch the electricity off at the board so she stood up and then the blast happened. The strength of the blast threw her away, maybe two to three metres, against the wall.

‘All the walls, the balcony, and the windows were removed from their place and smashed. It was really, really scary.

‘My daughter was traumatised, crying – not knowing what was happening around her. My wife was in a state of shock. We were taken by surprise and we didn’t know what to do.’

Luckily, Nidal’s family did not suffer severe injuries and he later took them to safety in a village.

The next day Nidal was out mobilising his teams to clean the streets, fix peoples’ homes, distribute free meals and water, and to track down as many of the 300,000 who have been left homeless to offer them shelter.

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At least 5,000 people have been wounded and Nidal raised fears about how hospitals will cope as only 39 out of more than 100 in the city are not private, he said.

Four of them are out of operation after being severely damaged in the blast, while others are so overwhelmed they have been forced to turn the wounded away.

thumbnail for post ID 130910981,000,000 people could lose jobs this year as unemployment hits 7.5%

He said ‘animosity’ has been growing in the country since last October, when Islamic Relief had to put their long-term plans on-hold and prioritise food parcels because the recession had become a ‘humanitarian emergency’.

Nearly half of the population is living below the poverty line, and 35% are out of work, according to official statistics. Even the middle class are ‘fighting to put food on the table’, said Nidal.

He said: ‘People are getting frustrated and angry. Because of this crisis, and the shrapnel and the dirt in the street, nobody is able to demonstrate and show their anger because everyone is still in a state of shock.’

Aid worker Masarra Nakouzi, who has been working on the ground supporting victims through British international charity, Human Appeal, echoed Nidal’s concerns.

Masarra, who is head of projects, said: ‘This is a country already suffering from a dire economic crisis… Its people are not in a position to cope with this disaster – the devastation, the search for answers and justice.’

She said ‘hundreds of thousands are facing a third night of uncertainty’ as there are currently not enough shelters to house everyone. Her team has been working to house and feed as many as they can.

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Masarra said she was at home in the city of Saida – about 44km away from Beirut – when the blast happened. She said: ‘I heard the sound of the explosion and thought it was an attack. My first reaction was that I hugged my daughter and hid under the table.’

Currently, hundreds of workers for Human Appeal and Islamic Relief are out on the streets supporting victims. The charities urged the public to donate to their emergency appeals because ‘we really need it’.

Nidal said: ‘Without the international community’s support I don’t think the people of Lebanon would be able to get out of this, there will be a lot of suffering.

‘This is a show of unity now. Everybody from all religions, of all colours, sex – everybody has come together in Beirut just to clean up and clear the way for life again.’

To donate to Islamic Relief, click here, and for Human Appeal here.

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