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Wounded civilians speak of shock and awe
Passersby attend to an injured man at the scene of explosion in Beirut, Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. (The Daily Star/Misbah Assi)
Passersby attend to an injured man at the scene of explosion in Beirut, Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. (The Daily Star/Misbah Assi)
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BEIRUT: Outside the American University of Beirut Medical Center’s Emergency Room, swathes of journalists and civilians waited anxiously for news of those wounded in a car bomb that targeted a former Finance Minister.

Journalists were denied entry to the hospital, and nurses and doctors were prevented from disclosing any information on the victims.Minutes before the blast took place, a group of four teenage boys had been snapping selfies with their cellphones near the site of the explosion.

One of the pictures taken by the youngsters, who sustained mild injuries in the blast, caught the Honda CRV in which the bomb was placed, and the image was widely circulated online.

Around 70 people were wounded in a car bomb that rocked Downtown Beirut Friday and targeted former Finance Minister Mohammad Shatah’s car as it drove in the capital’s central district at around 9:40 a.m.

In addition to Shatah and his bodyguard Tarek Badr, the explosion claimed the lives of Mohammed Nasser Mansour, Saddam al-Khanshouri, Kivork Takajian and a sixth person whose identity remains unknown.

According to the Health Ministry, most victims received treatment and were discharged, with the exception of nine who were still in the hospital by late afternoon, and many of the wounded had considered themselves lucky.

Among those were two taxi drivers employed at Taxi Bleu, a private cab company in Beirut whose cars are often parked by Starco building, where they are stationed.

Driver Pierre Kazarian had been sitting in his cab in the passenger seat with the door open as it was parked by the building. According to Nanor Yezegelian, the manager at Taxi Bleu’s call center, he was caught right in the explosion but survived with minor wounds in the head and leg.

“It’s a miracle,” Kazarian told The Daily Star, adding that he was only 10 meters away from the explosion.

“I couldn’t stand on my feet when it [the explosion] went off,” he said, adding that he was overcome by a strong sense of panic and shock, but remained conscious and fully aware of the chaos that ensued afterward. He added that the sound of the explosion was immeasurably loud.

Kazarian was taken to St. Georges Hospital in Ashrafieh and was discharged a couple of hours later after receiving treatment.

“The Virgin Mary wanted me to survive for my children,” he said, repeatedly thanking her for what he said was unbelievable luck.

His colleague Anwar Beddawi was not so lucky. While he survived the explosion, Yezegelian told The Daily Star that his head was severely wounded as a result of being hit by shrapnel. He was in a coma at the AUB Medical Center at press time.

Beddawi had his cab parked by Starco and had been taking a walk a little further down the road when the explosion happened.

Bassam Saad, a security guard working in the Starco building, whose outfit had turned significantly dusty and dirty, told The Daily Star he and the other guards were inspecting vehicles entering the building when they heard a loud explosion and felt its strong impact.

“The glass [from the building] shattered on my head,” the middle-aged man, who had bandages covering his head, said animatedly.

Civil Defense had rushed to his aid and stitched him up, he said, adding that large clouds of smoke blocked the otherwise blue sky.

“People were running haphazardly, but it was so foggy and dusty, I couldn’t see anyone or anything else,” Saad said.

On the building’s first floor, a woman who had also sustained injuries was helping the staff clear out the debris.

“I was on the phone when I felt the ripple of the explosion,” the woman, who chose to remain anonymous, said.

She felt the pressure of the blast before glass from the office window shattered all over her back, she said, pointing to where she had been sitting.

“The color of smoke that appeared was different colors, blue and red,” she said. “There was debris all around, sounds of glass shattering, things breaking. There were also a lot of smells, of burning.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 28, 2013, on page 3.
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