Lebanese Canadian community still in shock as death toll from Beirut explosion continues to rise

Mike Timani, president of the Moncton Lebanese Association, said he’s “sure” some families in the Moncton Lebanese community will be affected by the rising injury and death toll caused by a massive explosion in Beirut on Aug. 4.

Videos are currently circulating the internet from Beirut showing a giant explosion accompanied by images of destroyed building interiors. The UN Refugee Agency reports more than 200 fatalities and missing cases, with thousands injured.

More than 30 Lebanese Red Cross teams are responding, according to the Lebanese Red Cross Twitter account. They’ve also said there is an urgent need for all blood types.

Timani said families are big in Lebanon, with members counting in the hundreds and thousands, and many still have connections back home, whether it be family or friends.

“This is definitely heartbreaking and my heart is with the family who’ve lost their loved ones.”

He said some of his cousins were a 10-minute drive from where the explosion happened. He hasn’t heard from them yet, but doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions.

According to 2016 census data, there are 390 immigrants from Lebanon living in New Brunswick, and more New Brunswickers with Lebanese heritage.

Georges Nammour, in Dieppe, learned of the explosion on social media, but it has since triggered a flurry of messages between Lebanese-Canadians and between their family and friends back in Lebanon, he said.

Some of his fellow Lebanese-Canadians have been able to connect with friends and family, but others haven’t, he said.

“Everyone is wondering what happened. It might be firecrackers, it might be an explosion, in Lebanon it could be anything,” he said.

This situation is further complicated by pre-existing infrastructure issues and the time difference. “A lot of the time in Lebanon there is no power, with blackouts 15 to 16 hours a day,” said Nammour.

It will probably be tonight that the flurry of communications will heighten, he said.

Most Lebanese people in Moncton have people they are close with back in Lebanon, said Nammour, noting he knows a couple who are temporarily divided between both countries.

“Everyone is worried,” he said.

Fredericton resident George Youssef said he has an aunt who lives about 20 kilometres from Beirut. He said she and the rest of his family are all OK but friends of his relatives weren’t so fortunate and are in the hospital because of the blast.

Youssef said his aunt thought it was an earthquake because the ground shook.

“Luckily her windows were open and the patio doors were open so her glass didn’t break,” Youssef said. “It (the tremor) went that far of a distance – 20 kilometres. There are windows anywhere from a 10-20 (kilometre) radius that were all busted. It was like a nuclear bomb.”

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Alex Haram, the owner of Let’s Hummus in Saint John, said his wife was on the phone with her sister when the loud blast shook the building. Thankfully her sister was OK, said Haram.

He said his wife’s mother was in the mountains and could still see the explosion.

“It keeps us worried whenever we hear something like that. It’s ridiculous. It will never be stable.”

He said it’s hard to know what’s happening in Lebanon because there’s “corruption.”

“You never know the truth.”

Nadia Khoury, a Fredericton resident, said she has family who do business in Beirut but don’t live there. She said as far as she knows her relatives are all OK.

“I will be in touch with my family there,” she said. “We’re quite concerned. I am planning to call them.”

Tony Saad, also of Fredericton, said he has one member of his family who works in the city, but suspects he is fine.

“I haven’t heard anything,” Saad said.

“I’ll find out.”

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

TORONTO STAR