Beirut blast survivor: Santa Clara University Law grad says explosion ‘felt like Hiroshima’

Bay Area

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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — Here in the Bay Area the Lebanese community is coming together to help families affected by the deadly explosion that took place last Tuesday in the county’s capital city of Beirut. 

At around 6 p.m. local time two explosions sent a giant mushroom cloud into the sky and within moments rocked the city’s port — killing more than 200 people and leaving thousands injured. 

“What happened was a catastrophe,” said George Chammas, Honorary Consul of Lebanon in San Francisco. 

“Imagine a combination of a tsunami, an earthquake, a financial crisis and COVID … all put together and multiply that by x, all of this happened in a few seconds.”

Surviving the blast

Santa Clara University Law Graduate Elsa Hajjar was near the epicenter of the explosion and describes the catastrophic event to KRON4 News like a scene from Hiroshima. 

“I was passing by my designer who was designing my wedding dress … and it’s near Annahar Newspaper, so I was really close to the explosion,” said Hajjar. 

“It felt like watching Hiroshima get bombed in front of me.” 

Strained health care system 

The massive explosion overwhelmed a country already struggling with both the coronavirus pandemic and a severe economic crisis. 

Hajjar says it took her hours before she could finally receive medical attention. 

“I went first to the American University of Beirut Medical Center and it was full … they couldn’t even speak to us,“ said Hajjar. 

“We went again to another area, so it was three hours before they stitched me.”

Lebanon’s health minister Hamad Hasan said in a televised address that the country lacked vital medical aid —  as several hospitals reported damage so severely they could not admit any patients. 

Shock wave felt all over the world 

According to officials, the blask sent a force equivalent to a 3.5 magnitude earthquake and could be heard as far as Cyprus. 

Labeled as one of Lebanon’s most destructive explosions — the event was so catastrophic, it sent shock waves through the Lebanese community here in the Bay Area. 

“Statistics say that there are four million lebanese living in Lebanon and about 14 million around the world … in the Bay Area there is a large population,” said Chammas.

“Sadly I have friends who lost direct relatives so in a way this has affected the entire population.”

Courtesy: Ellian Raffoul

Moments of solidarity for the victims throughout the Bay Area have taken place — in San Francisco a vigil was held near Cupid’s Span in the Embarcadero along with lighting city hall the colors of the Lebanese flag. 

Hajjar says ways people can help is to continue to shed light on what’s going on and if possible to donate to  trusted Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). 

“You can help mentally by just shedding the light on this explosion because people just forget as time goes by,” said Hajjar.

“Even a dollar can make a difference.”

The question as to how more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the dock — remains unanswered. 

For a country that has been ravaged by war — Hajjar says she wants people to know that her country is much more than what you see on the headlines. 

“I just feel sorry because it’s not in your own hands and the politicians who are responsible for it are just ruining everything and ruining our image,” said Hajjar.

“Maybe for the world they see us as the Middle East which is always in constant war, but it’s not how Lebanon is,”

“Lebanon has the best food, the best beach, the best weather, has the best nightlife … we have everything in order to make a good country.”

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