Disasters & Accidents

Volunteers come to Beirut’s aid amid absent government

By Isaac J. Martin

Beirut, Aug 13 (efe-epa).- Beirut has been transformed from a cosmopolitan city bustling with bars to an emergency center with NGO tents providing medical care, food and clothing.

With the absence of governmental support in the wake of the deadly port explosion, charities and volunteers have stepped up in the devastated capital.

In the streets of Mar Mikhael and Gemmayze, two of the worst-affected neighborhoods, every building has been damaged.

People wait to get food, water and clothing, while others seek medical aid from the International Network For Aid Relief and Assistance (INARA).

Volunteer Hassan Saghir, who specializes in war injuries, attends to everyone who arrives.

He tells Efe that injured people are still arriving more than a week after the explosion involving nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse at the port.

He says that many have been injured by glass or debris from collapsed buildings.

Doctors treat the injured in the tent from the early hours of the morning until into the evening, most of the victims have infected wounds, Saghir adds.

More than 6,000 people were wounded in the blast, according to government estimates.

Portuguese doctor Andreia Castro got straight on a plane to Beirut after the explosion.

This week, in addition to treating the injured, she has joined protests that have been taking place since Saturday against Lebanon’s government, which resigned on Monday.

She has been collaborating with NGOs but says she has not come across any officials from the national or local government.

“I haven’t seen them (…) I’ve been here for five days, people need help and we don’t see anyone, all the help I see is from the Lebanese,” she adds.

All five NGOs and community groups interviewed by Efe say no one from the government has come to visit them or ask what they need.

Ray Abdelbaki, from Lebanese non-profit Arcenciel, says the government “is asleep” and that NGOs and charities are doing all the work.

An anonymous source at Beirut city hall tells Efe that “the damage is so great that the municipality cannot cope with it”.

They say local authorities have deployed more than 80 percent of their staff to assist in security for damaged buildings.

“Security is our priority – there were break-ins the first two days,” they add.

The source says 400 officers have been deployed to protect buildings and around 200 are spread over 20 areas, with around 20 in Mar Mikhail and Gemmayze.

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