A month after the devastating explosion, the broken pieces were swept into the street. But the permanent damage in Beirut is enormous. And the anger against the elites is greater than ever.
Photo series with 14 photos
At this point she is still smiling a bit, as if it wasn’t all that bad. Your apartment upstairs under the roof – high ceilings, wide balcony, sea view – has been completely destroyed. The explosion in Beirut harbor ripped the windows, swept out the wooden doors, cracked the walls, ripped open the roof. You have to remain objective now, says Marie-Rose Tobagi boldly. Then, from one moment to the next, she bursts into tears.
She bows her head, narrows her eyes, and struggles for words. “I loved this house so much,” the 58-year-old whispers. ‘With all its history. I will never find anything like it again. ‘
Her home is a three-story villa in the Mar Mikhael neighborhood of Beirut, built by her grandfather in 1898. Marie-Rose Tobagi has lived here all her life. It is only a few hundred meters from the site of the devastating explosion that shook Beirut’s marrow and bone with its shock wave exactly a month ago.
Beirut’s heart is bleeding
The blast was so powerful that it not only left large areas of the harbor in debris of steel and chunks of stone that look like they belonged to a bizarre surreal painting. The surrounding residential areas, known for their old buildings, bars, restaurants and cultural institutions, have also been hit hard. Mar Mikhael and the neighboring districts are the heart of Beirut. And some fear it might never be the way it used to.
Helpers everywhere run across the street with brooms and tools in hand. Volunteers hand out food and drink on the sidewalks. You can hear hammering, sawing and knocking. The broken pieces in the streets have now been swept away. But a month after the nightmare, the Lebanese capital is struggling to get back on its feet. The shock is still deep in people’s souls and bones.
Many survivors have been traumatized. They saw blood and the dead. Or were themselves close to death. Marie-Rose Tobagi is standing on her balcony when the blast wave from the blast engulfs Beirut. She feels something on her face, on her forehead. “Then I passed out,” she says. If she had stood on the balcony a step further, a huge stone would have fallen on her head. Another large piece lies on her bed, littered with debris. Right on the pillow. Now she sometimes takes a pill in the evening to help her sleep.
Left alone in need
The explosion also deepens the already wide rift between the country’s mighty powers and a people who have been struggling for months with a severe economic crisis and feel left alone in times of need. Maroun Karam, 29, looks exhausted that day, sweats and drinks a bottle of water almost all at once. Drops fall on its black T-shirt, depicting the Guy Fawkes mask motif, symbolizing the struggle against the rulers.
Maroun Karam is a political activist and co-founder of the “Baytna baytak” (“Our home is your home”) initiative, which supports the victims. She sends engineers and helpers to investigate and – if possible – repair damaged houses. In addition to a destroyed workshop, they have set up camp in Mar Mikhael.
Like many others here, Maroun also says there is no state support. And even when he offered help, Karam shook his head. “Under no circumstances” would he, he says, “under any circumstances”. Because the state would only send the usual corrupt companies that held their hands wide anyway.
The victims’ anger runs deep
Maroun was also hit hard by the explosion. The apartment was destroyed, the office too, and three friends were murdered. For him, it’s not all about rebuilding now. Maroun wants to overthrow the country’s political elite, seen by many Lebanese as a corrupt self-enriching cabal. The anger of the victims immediately leads to protests against the government, in which Maroun has been in the foreground for months. One photo shows him in a warrior position, hat on his head, ax in hand. “I’ve always been civilized,” he says. “But I got so angry after the explosion.”
The Beirutis, as the locals are called, go through a number of ups and downs of emotions. Like Niamh Fleming Farrell, co-owner of Aaliya’s Books, which was completely destroyed in the explosion. Two helpful neighbors try to weld in. Niamh stands at the door and looks with round, empty eyes. Her mood changes overnight, says the 36-year-old Irish woman. ‘One day I am optimistic. The next day I wonder what I’m actually doing here. ‘
More than 600 historic homes damaged
Marie-Rose Tobagi smiles again after wiping tears from her eyes. Engineers examined the house and workers placed new supports under the windows and ceilings to keep the building from collapsing. More than 600 such old houses have been damaged in the affected neighborhoods, Beirut’s cultural heritage that now needs to be saved in some way.
For a few days now, Marie-Rose Tobagi has been allowed to return to the third floor to retrieve what is still intact. The apartment has always been so bright, she says enthusiastically. “The sun came from all sides.” She tended to the green plants on the balcony.
When she lies on the ground after the explosion and regains consciousness, she sees the sky through the cracked roof. “Then I understood that this was the end of this house,” she says softly. Yes, the building may be rebuildable, possibly better than before. “But it won’t be the same again.”