BEIRUT: The bomb that rocked Lebanon Friday exploded with such force that it hurled part of a mangled car several stories into the air, where it lodged onto a not yet finished building.
The terrifyingly incongruous airborne fragment was soon integrated into a chaotic mess, but for a few minutes after a car bomb tore through Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan’s car in the Beirut neighborhood of Ashrafieh, it was so loud that it was quiet.
Eyewitnesses said that the buildings shook, and the area filled with a dark smoke. Many said they had heard nothing, or at least nothing that they could recall.
Then there were the flames, as the cars parked on Ibrahim Monzer Street each caught fire. Eventually, as the smoke cleared, the residents and workers of the street poured out of their homes and businesses to find balconies and walls ripped off, shattered glass almost everywhere, and bloodied bodies.
At first, civilians carried out the wounded until Red Cross and Civil Defense personnel arrived, seeking out the injured inside the broken buildings. Those who could walk streaked out of the area in blood soaked clothes. The elderly were carried out on shoulders.
Security personnel soon cordoned off the area, as soldiers first held hands and later used red and white tape to keep the curious and the distraught out, and let the ambulances and stretchers in. Ambulances wailed and both the concerned and curious climbed on top of cars and buildings to get a look at the carnage, the twisted metal and charred ground.
Others took shelter nearby, quietly thankful for their lives.
Hysterical family members tried to break the Army’s human chain. “They are in the building, I want to see them,” a young woman screamed, before neighbors took her aside. An elderly woman who wanted to see her home grabbed a soldier by his arms, demanding that he answer her when she asked “what kind of country is this?”
Below the construction site where part of the car had flown, blood covered the face of 17-year-old Josiane.
“I was making food for my little brother when the bomb went off,” she recalled. “I found him under the sofa crying ... my brother and I ran downstairs, but I don’t think my sister is okay.” Josiane was frantically calling for her mother, who she had not yet made contact with. Her two siblings, both under 10, had been hospitalized.
“I want to see my mom,” she called. “Please just get me to my mom.”
Bomb squad members in white bodysuits pored over the area close to the bomb, along with members of the security forces, detectives and several ministers.
As the day wore on, those who had been there – or nearly there – were trying to get a handle on events that called to mind some of Lebanon’s darkest days: the country’s 15 year Civil War and the string of assassinations in 2005 that included the killing of then former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Charles Maalouly left his office minutes before the bomb exploded in front of it. “I would have died. The feeling is crazy, that I survived.”
Standing on the edge of his living room, Joe Haddad explained that he had been working at his desk when his balcony collapsed, the wooden shutters falling on him. Inside, his home was covered in glass – as was a three block perimeter. But Haddad was lucky.
His mother and sister were not so fortunate and had been one building closer to the bomb. They were badly wounded, and with neither mobile phone nor land lines in consistent operation Haddad had not yet heard of their condition.
Haddad spoke calmly, in a stark contrast to the howling of others nearby. But he was not alone; many appeared to be in a stupor. Jad Haddad, an employee of a nearby shop was similarly stunned. “When we first heard the explosion, people were afraid to go out,” he said. “When we did leave, there were sounds of screaming and the place was covered in black smoke.”
“I would never have imagined something like this could happen in an area like Ashrafieh,” Haddad continued. “It was a frightening scene.”