Alex Haran and his wife were FaceTiming with his sister-in-law, who lives in Beirut. Then, an explosion happened.
“We literally saw the reaction, we literally heard the explosion and glass breaking. And then (the phone) disconnected,” he said during an interview on The Roy Green Show on Global News Radio.
“We were just panicking.”
Tuesday’s blast devastated much of the city including its port, killing nearly 160 people and injuring almost 6,000. As of Saturday, dozens were still missing.
It was later confirmed the explosion was caused by 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, which arrived in the Lebanese capital seven years ago during an unscheduled port visit.
Twenty minutes later, Haran, a New Brunswick restaurateur and owner of Let’s Hummus in Saint John, N.B., said he was informed by his mother-in-law that their immediate family was OK — but close friends of the family died in the blast.
Many members of his family lost their homes after the explosion, he said. Now, Haran said six full families would be living in two houses until everyone gets back on their feet.
Haran’s business has since created a GoFundMe campaign that will donate five per cent of Let’s Hummus’ net income for the next six months to the Red Cross, as well as another local organization giving out pillows and blankets to those who have been displaced from the blast in Beirut.
“There are literally people who don’t have a place to sleep,” he said. “It’s a disaster back at home.”
The explosion has since spawned public outrage, with many protesting throughout the country’s capital and overtaking government institutions. One police officer was killed and multiple protesters have been injured in the clashes.
Lebanon was already in an economic crisis prior to the explosion.
In July, Lebanese officials said the country’s currency had lost 60 per cent of its value, which could see a kilogram of beef cost the equivalent of $120 USD. Islamic Relief, an international aid agency, said in its most recent report an estimated half of the country was living below the poverty line and 35 per cent of its population was unemployed.
The country of 6.8 million people also accepted 1.5 million Syrian refugees in 2015, many of whom Haran said are “not in a good situation.”
“It’s tough, there is nothing we can do,” he said, adding those living in Lebanon were already undergoing “horrible times.”
“The last thing they needed was this. They were already fighting for food,” he said.
“Some of them are in the streets. Some of them are living in tents. Not everybody can get help from relatives. So it’s really tough. It’s really not an easy situation. I encourage everybody to help.”
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