Disasters & Accidents

Beirut’s landmark hotel seeks to resurface amid blast rubble

By Isaac J. Martin

Beirut, Aug 16 (efe-epa).- Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the Phoenician Hotel, a symbol of Lebanon, is seeking to raise for the third time from its ashes after it was largely destroyed by the explosion on August 4.

Spanish-Costa Rican hotel director Manrique Rodriguez was with his family in the luxurious hotel at the time of the explosion.

The Phoenician, which overlooks the port of the capital, had around 200 guests in addition to the employees.

“We had injuries, both guests and employees, but most of them were minor. It was a miracle,” Rodriguez told Efe.

The hotel was forced to close in 2005 when Prime Minister Rafic Hariri was killed on 14 February that year by a truck containing at least one ton of explosives that exploded next to the building.

Now, the expected sentence for that crime will be announced by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on 18 August.

The ruling date was postponed because of the explosion, which left at least 178 dead and more than 6,000 injured.

“Of course it’s worrying, but the way I see things, the political side and as a foreigner in this country, I prefer not to get involved or express an opinion or say anything because I feel like a guest,” says Rodriguez.

But now, they have to rebuild the hotel’s three towers, comprised of 476 rooms and apartments.

Rodriguez says the process would take “millions of dollars, but it is difficult to know how much (exactly) at the moment,” as “everything is compromised, not just the glass but also the rugs, furniture, ripped curtains, that sort of thing”.

“The structure of the hotel was not damaged (…) it is in perfect condition. The damage was extensive but mostly aesthetic,” he adds.

Rodriguez estimates that it would take “months not years,” to reopen the InterContinental Hotels Group property, which witnessed the so-called “battle of the hotels” during the 1975-1990 civil war.

Back then it was completely destroyed and abandoned for over 20 years.

Last year was one of the best in the hotel’s history, as “all the quality indexes were surpassed”, and by October 2019 they had already made $14 million, which they count on annually, explains Rodríguez.

In the wake of these results, Rodriguez – who took the helm in October 2018 – was named the chain’s best director-general in the region in 2019.

But a few months later, everything changed.

In October, the anti-government rallies broke out, followed by a political deadlock after Saad Hariri resigned amid the worst economic crisis in Lebanon in decades, with the pound losing over 80 percent of its value against the dollar.

Then authorities imposed lockdown measures to tackle the coronavirus spread, and this month the explosion occurred.

“It’s very difficult,” he says, although he points out that as a director he doesn’t have “the right to show fear, back off, regret or be pessimistic, that’s not in my vocabulary.

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