Winnipeg woman working in Lebanon recounts deadly Beirut explosion

By | August 10, 2020

WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg woman working in Beirut was fewer than two kilometres away from the site of an explosion in the city’s port last week which has killed at least 160 people.

Stephanie Dyck works as the disaster response and external grants committee with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), and has been in Lebanon for nearly two years. She helps MCC assist with implementing humanitarian aid projects in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.

On August 4, Dyck was at a grocery store approximately 1.2 kilometres from the port, picking up items after work. She said that evening she received a photo from a friend in a WhatsApp group chat showing a photo of something on fire in the port, asking what was happening.

“I was just going about my grocery shopping when the ground started moving and the whole storefront and the glass imploded,” she said.

“Everyone in the store panicked, which was understandable. It wasn’t clear what was happening.”

Dyck said she walked over broken glass when leaving the store and heading back to her residence.

“It became apparent that this was much more widespread than something that happened just outside of the grocery store,” she said.

Dyck said she only suffered a cut on her hand from a piece of broken glass that didn’t require medical attention. Her apartment had a number of broken windows, and glass and debris was strewn around her apartment when she arrived.

She said she and other MCC members have received access to counselling.

“I think it has taken some time for all of us to process in our own way,” she said. “We experienced the same thing, but differently, depending on where we were. It’s been good to process with people, but it’s a collective trauma that will take time to recover from.”

EXPLOSION WILL HAVE IMMEDIATE IMPACT ON COUNTRY

Dyck said Lebanon has been in crisis since last year, noting the country is dealing with a struggling economy, food security issues, protests against the government, a higher cost of living, and other humanitarian needs.

“Before the explosion, 50 per cent of people were assessed as living below the poverty line, and so this will only make matters worse,” she said. “This is more of a scaling up of what we might already be doing, and we’ll do that in coordination with members of the Humanitarian Coalition, which the (Canadian) government  has now announced a matching fund for.”

Dyck said the immediate needs for the country include food, shelter, and medical needs.

“Lebanon imports 85 per cent of its food, and the port, which is the main entry point for that food, is now destroyed, including the majority of our grain stocks,” she said. “We now only have four to six weeks left in the country at the moment.”

Dyck said there is a sense of solidarity among the Lebanese people as they work to repair the country. Although she will be travelling back to Canada this weekend, which she said was booked before the explosion, she said she will return to Lebanon soon.

“Lebanon has really become my second home,” she said. “It’s where I have dear friends, and community, and so I want to be part of that rebuilding and contribute in whatever way I can.”

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