‘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)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)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)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 CREDITRawane 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)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

1914
It happened this week in 1914

Jan. 10 - 16: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the newspapers at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

Piling in place along Innis Avenue in Cranbrook, part of the new Broadstreet Properties development. David Humphrey photo
Innis Avenue to close to all traffic starting January 18

Avenue facing new development will be closed from Monday, Jan. 18 to Thursday, Jan. 21, for sewer connection

Wolf photo by Brian Hay
2020 hunting season review and wildlife update: Part III

This is Part III of a three-part series by F.J. Hurtak, looking at the issues of the 2020 hunting and wildlife management season

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
115 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths in Interior Health

There are now a total of 4,970 cases in the region

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. finds its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Purcell Wilderness Conservancy expanded with 18 hectares of previously privately-owned land. Photo from BC Parks.
Purcell Wilderness Conservancy expanded following Provincial land acquisition

18 hectares of waterfront added to critical wildlife habitat

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

A northern resident killer whale shows injuries sustained by a collision with a vessel in B.C. waters. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Coast Guard ramps up protections for B.C. whales

First-ever Marine Mammal Desk will enhance cetacean reporting and enforcement

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
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
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Two toucans sit on tree at an unidentified zoo. (Pixabay.com)
BC SPCA calls for ban on exotic animal trade after 50 parrots, toucans pass through YVR

One toucan was found dead and several others were without food

Most Read