“Even during the Civil War we had not experienced anything like this,” said Shahan Kandaharian, the editor of Aztag Daily Newspaper as he compared Tuesday’s blast at the Beirut port to a high-magnitude earthquake.
On Wednesday, as Lebanese government officials elevated the death toll to 100 and declared that 4,000 people were injured, a shocked Armenian community began to assess the losses.
Kandaharian told media outlets in Armenia that 11 Armenian community members were confirmed dead. Other sources put the injured among the community at well above 250.
The powerful explosion that was felt as far away as Cyprus has turned Beirut into a disaster zone, with Kandaharian reporting significant losses to Lebanese Armenian, including community centers, churches, schools and other institutions, including the offices of the Aztag newspaper.
The impact of the explosion ripped through the Armenian-populated Bourdj Hammoud neighborhood where the Shaghzoyan Center that houses Aztag and serves as the headquarters of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Bureau and Lebanon Central Committee was severely damaged. Homes and businesses in the neighborhood have been destroyed.
Kandaharian said that it would take a long time to have a full assessment of losses, but said the situation was devastating.
Lebanon has been experiencing one of the most significant political crisis in its history, with mass demonstrations beginning last fall being held to protest the socio-economic situation in Lebanon. Then came the coronavirus pandemic, sending the country into a tailspin.
Kandaharian highlighted the psychological toll the disaster has had on the community.
“During the Civil War, we have lived through rocket attacks, aerial bombardments and other blasts,” said Kandaharian adding that Tuesday’s explosion was unprecedented, and its after-effects too far reaching to fathom.
With the coronavirus pandemic hitting Lebanon hard, hospitals and emergency rooms were already filled to capacity when the blast not only sent thousands to seek medical help, but also destroyed some of the city’s key hospitals, from where patients were forced to evacuate.
Lebanese officials have said that the explosion took place at a depot where almost 3,000 tons of high-explosive ammonium nitrate was being stored. The debris and the toxic fumes released during the explosion adds an added concern for the people of Lebanon, the impact of which has yet to be assessed.
Immediately after the explosion, His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of All Armenians toured Bourdj Hammoud to assess the damage, but more important, to meet with community members. According to Aztag, he began his walk through the neighborhood from the Lebanon Prelacy building, and one-by-one visited community centers, businesses and residences. He brought with him urgent economic assistance.
Armenian communities across the world have already mobilized to provide assistance to their brethren in Lebanon, with governments of Armenia and Artsakh pledge to send aid there.