As the Associated Press put it in a dispatch from Beirut on August 4: “United in grief and anger, families of the victims and several thousand Lebanese gathered at the port as the country marked the first anniversary of the horrific explosion of 2020.
“That blast killed at least 214 people and devastated entire neighborhoods in Lebanon’s capital city.” AP explained: the blast in a deserted warehouse near Beirut’s port “injured and maimed thousands of people after tons of ammonium nitrate” exploded and a huge fire broke out.
The explosion has been described as one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in human history. It caused all of Lebanon to shake, and was heard as far away as the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, more than 180 miles west of Beirut.
How did it happen?
A year later, many questions remain. Key among them:
- Why were tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a single location, when the dangers of ignition were so potentially damaging to Lebanon’s principal city and the entire tiny country?
- Why, a year later, has the government failed to answer why the potential hazards of such storage were unrecognized, and why didn’t authorities take timely action to diminish the potential peril?
- Why, in 2021, is there still no detailed official Lebanese government account dealing with these questions, and why is that government still in power without any evidence of reform to date?
Lasting imprints of that terrible moment
The Washington Post on August 5, reported that the historically tragic explosion at 6:08 p.m. a year ago, brought back “terrifying memories” to many in Beirut:
57-year old Sister Marie-Joseph Salame was at Rosary Sisters Hospital when the explosion in the port brought ceilings, masonry and glass cascading onto patients and staff, badly injuring her arm.
The Post quoted Sister Marie-Joseph as saying: “The wound cannot be removed. You keep re-living this memory.”
President Biden’s reaction
The work of forming a new government in Lebanon that will combat corruption and stem the decline “has to start now,” the President said in a statement issued by the White House on August 5.
In a videotaped address to a Paris international donors conference on the tragic explosion in Lebanon, Mr. Biden announced $100 million in U.S. aid to that devastated country. The Paris gathering aims to raise at least $350 million for aid to Lebanon in its recovery efforts.
News media can provide more transparency
As a resident VOA bureau chief in Lebanon in the late 60s (it was then known as ‘the Paris’ of the Middle East), I recall the energy and eagerness of the staff there to adapt to change from production of classic Mideast dramas and poetry to reporting the news of the day from Lebanon and the region as a whole.
I’m confident that they and today’s new generation in Lebanon will welcome a new day in their stunningly beautiful country should the needed reforms occur quickly in 2021.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More