Lebanon News

Officials respond with funds, surveys after blast

BEIRUT: The Higher Relief Committee sent out assessment teams Monday to meet with Ashrafieh residents affected by Friday’s car bomb and offered immediate relief to more than 60 families whose apartments are located on the street where the blast occurred.

Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui visited the damaged area Monday as teams of HRC staff and engineers began to survey buildings in the neighborhood.

“This is a humanitarian tour aimed at relieving the suffering of those who homes sustained damage from the Ashrafieh explosion through giving the needed assistance before the advent of winter,” Charbel said, adding that aid would be channeled through the municipality of Beirut as well as the state and the HRC.

Charbel and Sehnaoui toured the worst of the destruction, centered on Ibrahim Monzer Street where the car bomb exploded Friday, killing Internal Security Forces Information Branch chief Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan and two others.

The HRC estimated that five buildings, including 69 apartments, are located on the street where the explosion occurred. Engineering teams began the process of inspecting the buildings Monday to determine the extent of structural damage, but the area was otherwise cordoned off with tight security as a criminal investigation is ongoing.

“We are now working day and night to complete the mission,” said HRChead Ibrahim Bashir, who accompanied Charbel and Sehnaoui to the site.

Notices posted in the area directed residents to seek assistance at the temporary HRC office set up at the edge of the cordoned area.

In the makeshift center, operating out of the Farah Trading Group office on Sassine Street, families filed paperwork, and HRC staff distributed financial assistance.

“We are here to pay money for one month’s rents for people on the street of the explosion,” said HRC operations coordinator Elie Khoury, referring to the estimated 69 families who are unable to return to their homes.

Each family is to be given $1,000 by the HRC for temporary accommodations, which will continue to be renewed upon review.

The municipality of Beirut is also seeking to assist these estimated 69 displaced families with an additional LL5-10 million, according to Beirut MP Michal Pharaon.

Pharaon met with other Ashrafieh MPs Monday, including Nadim Gemayel and Jean Oghassabian, as well as the head of the Ashrafieh merchants committee, Tony Eid, and a number of local mukhtars to discuss aid for victims of the bombing.

“[For] every family that wants to rent a house, we guarantee the rent fee will be paid. We started doing so through mukhtars and members of the municipal council,” Pharaon said after the meeting.

Pharaon’s office is also operating a temporary hotline. Affected families can call 03-000-019 for information or to file cases.

In addition to providing assistance to those displaced in the immediate area of the blast, the HRC sent four assessment teams to inspect the damage to apartments located on the surrounding blocks.

Yola Loutfi, who lives on the fourth floor of a building backing onto the street where the blast occurred, said that an HRC engineer had come to inspect her apartment Monday morning.

Loutfi had returned from Rizk Hospital Friday night, having been treated for injuries to her head, hand and leg, only to find all of the glass in her apartment shattered and severe damage to her kitchen.

She explained that the HRC representative asked about damage and conducted an inspection, but gave her no information about when she would hear back about compensation.

Nonetheless, she was “surprised” by the visit.

“We didn’t expect to see anyone,” she said, even though there had been rumors among her neighbors that assessments would begin Monday.

According to Khoury, the HRC will finish these inspections within the week, but residents may have to wait for news regarding compensation.

“We can’t say until we have finished all of the assessments and filed our report to the Cabinet,” Khoury said, adding that the immediate priority was to aid those who could not return home at all.

In Sassine Square, Ashrafieh mukhtars were setting up a booth Monday afternoon to collect aid and offer assistance.

“We are here to help and collect money as quickly as possible for the families,” said mukhtar Fares Mrad, who will man the booth with the help of other local officials for the next three to four days.

Mrad had visited the damaged buildings with other officials earlier in the day and met with a number of families to identify their needs – mostly the funds to fix their homes.

In coordination with the HRC, officials will soon set up a bank account where citizens can directly donate to the victims of Friday’s bombing.

“When there is a big event, an explosion like this, we are going to help. We are ready to take responsibility,” said Mrad. – additional reporting by Stephen Dockery

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 23, 2012, on page 4.




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