Islander’s relative in Beirut tells of explosion horror; local efforts to help

Days after the explosion that levelled Beirut’s port, killing at least 154 people and injuring thousands, Victoria woman Waffa Jennings is learning aboutthe serious injuries sustained by her cousin, who lived a few kilometres from the blast.

Jennings’ cousin Nicola, who is in his 30s, was sleeping by a window due to the heat so the explosion sent shards of glass into the left side of his body.

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The hospitals in Beirut were so overwhelmed with wounded people that Nicola’s friend drove him to a village outside the city where his wounds could be stitched.

Nicola and her uncle Tony are now homeless and staying with friends outside of Lebanon’s capital as their home has been destroyed. “They haven’t been able to talk about it until now, they’ve been trying to find food, medical help and water. As soon as we found out what had happened, we were just devastated,” said Jennings, a mother of two who has lived in Victoria since 1985.

“They’re there until they figure out what to do and where to go. Everything is still in a state of chaos.”

Mohamed Aziz has spent the past few days watching news coverage, trying to process the destruction of his former home and where his family still lives. He knew he had to help, even from thousands of kilometres away in Victoria.

Aziz’s parents, brother and sister and their children live 40 kilometres away from the port where the explosion happened, but they could still feel the shake from the blast.

“They are all fine, thank God,” he said. “But everyone is affected. It looks like a nuclear bomb went off.”

The owner of Victoria falafel shop Wrap N Roll is selling falafels by donation today to raise money for the disaster relief effort in Beirut. The business is open from noon to 7 p.m. and all proceeds will go to a Lebanese non-profit helping victims of the blast.

Members of the Lebanese community in Victoria are organizing a candlelight vigil Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Inner Harbour across from the Empress hotel. People are encouraged to bring a candle or a light, and, if they have one, a Lebanese flag to show solidarity with the blast victims, said organizer Mira Soueid.

The house of Soueid’s aunt was damaged in the blast but her relatives were not injured.

At least 154 people were killed and 5,000 injured when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate blew up Tuesday, obliterating Beirut’s port area. The explosive chemical had been stored for years in a warehouse after being removed from a cargo ship.

The blast destroyed homes kilometres away, leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless.

“I don’t believe we’ll be able to rebuild the way it was or even close,” Aziz said, his voice cracking. “When you leave a country and you see the way it is right now, it’s very hard.”

Aziz left Beirut for Victoria in 1985. The 59-year-old drove taxis for most of his life but eight years ago opened Wrap N Roll to help pay for his children’s education. Aziz and his wife, Fatima, have eight children between the ages of 21 and 43.

Soueid, who left Beirut three years ago and moved to Victoria a year later, said there’s a feeling of hopelessness in her country, where people were already living in poverty and economic collapse.

“It’s really devastating because it’s one thing after another,” she said. “It’s going to put the whole country to the ground.”

Soueid hopes the vigil will allow the Lebanese community in Victoria and their supporters to grieve together. People will be invited to speak and Lebanese music will be played.

“It was very important for me because I need to grieve that and there’s lots of people who need to grieve,” she said. “It’s creating a space for people to come together.”

kderosa@timescolonist.com

— With files from The Canadian Press

• Wrap N Roll is at 1885 Fort St. in Victoria

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