‘I didn’t want to die’: Beirut resident recalls moments of panic after blast

Extensive damage shows at the site of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Residents of Beirut stunned, sleepless and stoic emerged Wednesday from the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion searching for missing relatives, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what’s left of their homes. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)Extensive damage shows at the site of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Residents of Beirut stunned, sleepless and stoic emerged Wednesday from the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion searching for missing relatives, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what’s left of their homes. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
A man, top left, takes pictures with a mobile phone as he stands on a building that was damaged by an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Residents of Beirut stunned, sleepless and stoic emerged Wednesday from the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion searching for missing relatives, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what’s left of their homes. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)A man, top left, takes pictures with a mobile phone as he stands on a building that was damaged by an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Residents of Beirut stunned, sleepless and stoic emerged Wednesday from the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion searching for missing relatives, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what’s left of their homes. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Lebanese Druze clerics checks damaged cars, a day after an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Residents of Beirut stunned, sleepless and stoic emerged Wednesday from the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion searching for missing relatives, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what’s left of their homes. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)Lebanese Druze clerics checks damaged cars, a day after an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Residents of Beirut stunned, sleepless and stoic emerged Wednesday from the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion searching for missing relatives, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what’s left of their homes. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Rawane Al Zahed and her husband Mazen Alaouie are shown in a handout photo. Al Zahed remembers running through her home to check on her family after she heard blasts rip through Beirut and felt the ground shake beneath her feet. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Rawane Al Zahed MANDATORY CREDITRawane Al Zahed and her husband Mazen Alaouie are shown in a handout photo. Al Zahed remembers running through her home to check on her family after she heard blasts rip through Beirut and felt the ground shake beneath her feet. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Rawane Al Zahed MANDATORY CREDIT
People drive past buildings and cars that were damaged in Tuesday’s massive explosion in the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The explosion flattened much of a port and damaged buildings across Beirut, sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. In addition to those who died, more than 3,000 other people were injured, with bodies buried in the rubble, officials said. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)People drive past buildings and cars that were damaged in Tuesday’s massive explosion in the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The explosion flattened much of a port and damaged buildings across Beirut, sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. In addition to those who died, more than 3,000 other people were injured, with bodies buried in the rubble, officials said. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Rawane Al Zahed remembers running through her home to check on her family after she heard blasts rip through Beirut and felt the ground shake beneath her feet.

Al Zahed, who has filed paperwork to join her husband — a permanent resident of Canada — in Vancouver, lives about five kilometres from the site of the blast that killed at least 100 on Tuesday and wounded thousands.

A long-time Montreal resident is among the dead, a city councillor said, and the federal government confirmed a member of the Canadian Armed Forces suffered injuries that are not life-threatening.

Al Zahed, 24, said she felt two explosions a few seconds apart from each other. The first felt like an earthquake, while the second sent shockwaves through the fifth-floor apartment where she lives with her family.

“I was super afraid,” Al Zahed said. ”I didn’t want to die. I was screaming, ‘I don’t want to die now.’”

That second explosion left a wood and iron door cracked, and shattered the television screen in her house, she said.

Al Zahed said she could hear people screaming on the floors and streets below her apartment, even as windows shattered and a few balconies collapsed.

There was another moment of panic when her husband couldn’t get through to her because she was getting calls from other friends and family, she said.

Later that night, Al Zahed said she called her husband. He tried to lighten the mood with a couple jokes, but she said she was still far too panicked to sleep.

“I wake up, I tweet. I wake up, I open Facebook. I want to see what’s happening,” she said. ”All I can think of (is) how I ran. All I can remember (is) when I ran.”

What caused the blast remains unclear, but it appears to have been triggered by a fire and it struck with the force of an earthquake.

READ MORE: Huge explosions rock Beirut with widespread damage, injuries

It was the most powerful explosion ever seen in the city, which was split in half by the 1975-1990 civil war and has endured conflicts with neighbouring Israel and periodic bombings and terror attacks.

There was no evidence the explosion was an attack. Instead, many Lebanese blamed it on decades of corruption and poor governance by the entrenched political class that has ruled the tiny Mediterranean country since the civil war.

Lebanon was experiencing a severe economic crisis that has ignited mass protests in recent months. Its health system is confronting a surge of COVID-19, and there were concerns the virus could spread further as people flooded into hospitals.

Al Zahed said she’s still trying to come to terms with what happened, noting that because of her age, she was spared from much of Lebanon’s recent tragedy.

“I’m 24 years old. I didn’t live through any other big Lebanese wars,” Al Zahed said. “I was too young for the one in 2006, and I didn’t pass through any trauma before like this one. It was really scary.”

— With files from The Associated Press

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Middle East

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Stock photo
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Let’s find a cure for potato pox

What happened to the clean-skinned potato of my youth, asks letter writer

An app available through the Vancouver Island Regional Library’s website can help students during COVID times. (Stock photo)
New library app can help families with online learning

Sample tests, virtual flashcards available through Vancouver Island Regional Library’s website

The Nanaimo Clippers in action at Frank Crane Arena in early 2020. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Clippers for sale as owner says hockey won’t be back to normal any time soon

Wes Mussio says he’s had numerous inquiries about the junior A club already

The current boat used by Rugged Coast Research Society for remote shoreline cleanup operations will be replaced by a landing craft that will allow society members to haul four times as much marine garbage per trip from Vancouver Island’s remote shorelines. (Agathe Bernard photo/Rugged Coast Research Society)
Nanaimo-based research group needs bigger boat for coastal cleanups

Rugged Coast Research Society raising cash for landing craft to pull trash from remote shorelines

Pet owners are leaving more dog waste than ever before on Nanaimo’s paths and trails, says letter writer. (Stock photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Dog owners need to pick up after their pets

Letter writer says he’s ‘disgusted’ by dog walkers not picking up their dog waste

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

A crossover utility vehicle smashed through the front of a business on Bowen Road on Friday evening. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Vehicle smashes all the way into business on Nanaimo’s Bowen Road

No serious injuries reported after incident at Venue Financial Centres

Snuneymuxw artist Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun is among the artists participating in the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Rain Shadow exhibit. His piece, ‘We Fell from the Sky/Together and Apart,’ depicts a Snuneymuxw creation story. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo Art Gallery exhibit explores the ways people think about place

‘Rain Shadow’ features work mostly by Vancouver Island and Gulf Island artists

Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

Wayne Allen's graduation photo from Chemainus Secondary School. (Photo submitted)
Brother charged with murder in Vancouver Island teenager’s Ontario death

Jesse James Allen stands accused in the death of Wayne Allen, a 2020 Chemainus Secondary grad

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)

Most Read