Lebanon News

Anxious aftermath plays out in hospitals across Beirut

BEIRUT: The destruction of the bomb that ripped through Ashrafieh Friday afternoon spread far past its immediate vicinity, as distraught victims awoke in hospitals across the city confused and anxious about what the afternoon had wrought.

A few hours after the blast, 76-year-old Marie Richa sank into a wheelchair outside the ambulance entrance to Rizk Hospital, a white sheet draped around her bare shoulders.

Clutching the sheet with one bloody hand and wiping her eyes with another, a confused Richa was afraid the carnage had left her all alone.

“I don’t have anyone anymore,” she whimpered softly. “I don’t know if my niece is alive, and if she is, I don’t know which hospital she is in. I don’t know where to go. I am completely lost.”

With cuts on her face, Richa explained that with her husband dead, her son living abroad and her house in pieces she wasn’t sure what to do next. She waited for a distant relative to come pick her up.

Richa was not the only victim unable to locate loved ones: The injured were split between the Rizk, Hotel Dieu, Saint George and Wardiye hospitals and both mobile phone and land-line services were down for several hours.

Doctors and police officers darted back and forth, as Nadim Daher hovered on the pavement outside the emergency room, away from other panicked relatives. Daher had turned his striped T-shirt inside out, but had not managed to hide the tell-tale brown splotches on his chest.

He was awaiting news of his elderly mother, Angel Daher, who had been home alone when the bomb went off in her neighborhood. Nadim was already on his way to her house, having just picked up his kids from school, but “when everything happened I dropped my kids off at my brother’s place and ran” to her house.

“Some people helped me to pull out my mother and we rushed her here,” he continued. Glass had struck her head and shoulders, and she was still in surgery as he paced the parking area.

Higher up in the hospital, a thick blue door separated nervous families from those in recovery. The locked barrier swung open every few minutes to allow through a nurse bearing stacks of gauze or a sister checking on her sibling.

Inside the unit, the wounded were two to a room. With crusted blood on her ear and bandages covering only some of her cuts, Antoinette Nkoula Haddad curled toward her IV drip and repeatedly asked after the fate of her mother.

“I was still conscious during the first explosion, but I don’t know what happened after the second one,” she said. “All they say is she is okay without telling me where she is,” Haddad complained, repeating her mother’s name. “I remember telling her something after the second explosion.”

The bandage on her roommate Yola Lutfi’s head was slipping off, and she couldn’t recall the moment of the explosion. Although she appeared to be smiling, the middle-aged Lutfi was teary eyed and baffled. Emergency workers had found her on the stairs of her home, but she did not know how she came to be there.

“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if I ran to the stairs or if the explosion threw me there,” she said. “I tried to wake up and look for my kids.”

Down the hall, half of Salami Kefle’s face was bandaged. “I was in the kitchen cooking and glass fell on my head and my hand, I tried to get to the living room.”

The 29-year-old hails from Ethiopia, and has lived in the country for seven years. “A lot of blood was coming out of my head, I was really scared and wanted to run outside,” Kefle said, but she still checked on the welfare of the elderly woman she looked after before making her way out of the building.

Hospitals across the country were swarmed with those seeking to donate blood, and at Rizk dozens were leaning on the walls to fill out their application forms. A nurse occasionally called out the most urgently needed blood types.

One donor waiting, Noor, was joined by her classmates from the nearby Saint Joseph University. She said that half of her class walked out on a lesson to give blood, and indeed many of those milling around were young men and women.

Nineteen-year-old Ashrafieh residents Ralph and Victor came together. “I heard it from home in Sioufi,” Victor said. “My whole house shook.”

Ralph heard the news while driving in Hamra, and they made for the nearest hospital. “I just wanted to help,” he said.

Another student in line could only speak softly. Having arrived from France just a month ago, 20-year-old Eloise acknowledged she was “very scared,” though she was certainly not the only one.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 20, 2012, on page 3.




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