Winnipeg woman was just 1 km away from Beirut explosion when it happened

By | August 10, 2020

A Winnipeg woman who is currently living in Beirut, Lebanon, was just a kilometre away from the port when a massive chemical explosion there sent a destructive shockwave across the city last week.

Stephanie Dyck, who is a disaster response co-ordinator for the Mennonite Central Committee, was in a grocery store buying ingredients to make a friend a birthday cake on Tuesday when the ground started rumbling.

“I turned towards the front of the grocery store to see what was, what kind of big truck was rumbling by, and then there was just a huge boom and all the glass on the front of the of the grocery store imploded,” she said.

Dyck abandoned her grocery cart and decided to walk home because she lives close by. She said there was a lot of panicked pushing and shoving inside the store.

“There was smoke everywhere, glass on the ground — basically the street was carpeted in small bits of glass,” she said.

The explosion in Beirut’s port killed more than 150 people, injured thousands and displaced 300,000. The day after the explosion, people surveyed the damage near the site of the blast. (Submitted by World Vision Canada)

Dyck later learned the blast occurred when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate ignited. The explosion killed more than 150 people, injuring thousands and displacing 300,000.

“I think the best word for how I have felt in the last number of days is just gutted,” she said.

“It just feels devastating for this country and the city…. We’ve kind of been in crisis mode since October of last year. Lebanon is facing economic collapse and rising food prices and COVID, and this just feels like being kicked when you’re already down in the worst way.”

Dyck wasn’t injured, but she says she could have been if her day had panned out differently.

Originally, she had planned to go to a shop close to the port to buy gifts for her family, whom she’ll be visiting later this month. That store was ruined in the blast.

“I think that the reality that I could have been hurt or killed … is really hard for my sister especially and my mom,” she said.

In spite of the death and devastation around her, Dyck says she’s seeing people come together to help each other.

“The neighbourhood is full of groups of volunteers with buckets and brooms and bags and are just walking around asking who they can help,” she said.

Feds matching donations to Lebanon

The international community is also stepping in to help.

Ottawa launched a dollar-for-dollar matching fund to send additional aid to Lebanon, a contribution that comes from the federal government’s previous commitment of $5 million to provide relief to the region.

International Development Minister Karina Gould announced Saturday that the government plans to match all donations made by Canadians to specific humanitarian organizations between Aug. 4 and Aug. 24, up to a maximum of $2 million.

“In the wake of this disaster, we need to act quickly to save as many lives as possible and reduce suffering,” Gould said during a news conference. 

The members of the Humanitarian Coalition include Action Against Hunger, Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Canadian Lutheran World Relief, CARE Canada, Doctors of the World, Humanity & Inclusion, Islamic Relief Canada, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam Québec, Plan International Canada, Save the Children Canada and World Vision Canada.

Two of the organizations, Canadian Foodgrains Bank and Canadian Lutheran World Relief, are based in Winnipeg.

Dyck says she’s seen teams from the humanitarian organizations in the field, working to assess what’s most needed.

“That way they can provide the most appropriate and needed support possible for people that support is needed now in the immediate term, but there is a very long term rebuilding process as well,” she said.

“They need our support through an incredible time of suffering.”

WATCH | Video footage shows the massive explosion that hit Beirut

A massive explosion near the centre of Beirut has killed dozens in the Lebanese capital. Journalist Rebecca Collard, who is about two kilometres from the blast site, shares details on the ongoing rescue efforts. 7:41

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