Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Twin Explosions Kill 23 in Beirut

By: Kaylyn Hlavaty
Reporting from Beirut, Lebanon

Around 10 a.m., I was at a café sipping my French press coffee when I received a notification on my phone from the BBC saying there were two bombings in Bir Hassan, near El-Jnah. I quickly finished a Skype interview and around 11 a.m.  and rushed to grab a taxi to head to El-Jnah.

I’ve been in Lebanon for two months now, and never seen the aftermath of a bombing. I’ve seen pictures and videos, but you can’t get the full picture unless you’re there. The taxi dropped me off as far as he could go because the roads were blocked at this point. I had to walk a little ways to reach the main area where the bombs exploded. Every street was blocked with security dictating who went through and who didn't. Since I’m a freelancer, I don’t have a press card to show anyone who might ask. They wanted to see one so I had to explain that I'm not with one set media outlet. This hasn’t posed a problem yet for me when getting access to certain places. I usually say I’m a freelancer and I show them my passport and eventually a person lets me through. Also, I guess I’m good at talking my way through things, as long as the person understands my English and American accent.

Debris and blood in front of an apartment building
The guards at the road blockade let me through. Walking up to the scene was an experience I’ve never had. I didn’t know what I was going to see. I just knew I would see destruction. I was walking in the main road of what now was covered with glass, blood and any other debris as result of the blast. On the left and ride side of me all the windows of apartment buildings were shattered. It was like someone individually shot each window out. Almost no window was spared. Every step I took I heard crunch crunch crunch from the amount of glass underneath my boots. Most of the buildings were evacuated because of the fear that there might be a third bomb somewhere. The residents who came back already started the long clean up process.

The guards blocking the road let me through no problem. Walking up to the scene was an experience I’ve never had before. I didn’t know what I was going to see. I just knew I would see destruction. I was walking in the main road of what now was covered with glass, blood and any other debris left as a result of the blast. On the left and ride side of me were apartment buildings with windows missing, concrete gone and furniture dismantled  It was as if some one individually shot each window out. Almost no window or apartment building was spared.

To right is the Iranian Embassy. Photo taken by Kaylyn Hlavaty
 Emergency response teams. Photo Courtesy of Mostapha Raad
Before I arrived, the deceased victims were off the street and the injured taken to nearby hospitals. There were specialists collecting samples of the bomb pieces for evidence. As I was walking around taking pictures, my journalist friend, Mostapha found me in crowd and invited me to go to the hospital with him. We arrived at the hospital and right when we got in the courtyard in front of the hospital, I heard the wailing of what looked liked to be a mother who lost a child in the explosion. Several Red Cross Ambulances passed me with bodies inside. Mostapha and I were able to talk to some of the victims. We talked to people who were either on their balconies or on the street when the bombs exploded. Their faces expressed shock, relief and pain all in one. Most had cuts and small wounds from the glass.
Bomb victim Photo by Kaylyn Hlavaty

A woman named Nadine was on the balcony when the bombs exploded. She told us the air pressure from the second bomb knocked her down to the ground.

As I was leaving, more and more families were gathered outside the hospital after hearing a loved one survived or died. The waiting area had a somber, quiet mood lingering throughout.

We left the hospital after our interviews and headed back to El-Jnah so we could write up our stories at mo5tar news. Around 4 p.m. news crew were still at the scene and the residents started to clean up around the apartments.

My friend Isslam is an expat I met the first week in Lebanon.She was also in the neighborhood since morning. Her in-laws live just one block away from the Iranian Embassy. A left turn off the main road and her husband's parents home is right there. The bombings had a personal relevance to her and her husband because they knew some of the people who died in the blast. They came to know the security man who kept post a block away from the embassy, who is now dead. Also, a friend of the family was missing earlier today, but in the evening they found half of his body. She told me this friend ran out of the factory after the first bomb to see what happened. As he turned the corner, the second one was detonated.

Just being in the same place today as where two bombs were denoted and created chaos and trauma to  witnesses and victims is  beyond sad. It's more than depressing to think about the families who couldn't say goodbye to their loved ones. I still smell the fumes lingering in the air and seeing the Red Cross emergency team rushing to assist those in most harm. Today I saw first hand how the media responds and reports such events and how hospitals respond to causalities and helping the injured. I haven't been in Lebanon for too long, but I know every day that I made the right decision to come here. When I was taking pictures of the bombing areas and interviewing people, I felt excited to be reporting on a breaking news event.

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