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‘The streets were full of broken glass and debris’: Mercy Corps director in Lebanon discusses Beirut explosion

Rafael Velasquez joined KGW's Sunrise Extra to talk about the recent explosion in Beirut and the ongoing relief efforts.
Credit: KGW Staff

PORTLAND, Ore — On Tuesday, a massive explosion rocked Beirut, decimating much of the city's port and damaging buildings across Lebanon's capital. An estimated 135 people were killed and more than 5,000 were injured in the explosion. 

Lebanese officials say the blast was caused by a 2,750-ton stockpile of ammonium nitrate that was being stored at a port warehouse near the city center.

Rafael Velasquez was in Beirut when the explosion occurred. He's the Mercy Corps director in Lebanon. Mercy Corps provides humanitarian aid around the worldHe joined KGW's Sunrise Extra to discuss what he saw in the immediate aftermath.

"The streets were full of broken glass and debris. The hospitals were at full capacity. People were being attended to in parking lots," Velasquez said.

Credit: AP
Workers remove rubble from damaged buildings near the site of an explosion on Tuesday that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. The blast which appeared to have been caused by an accidental fire that ignited a stockpile of ammonium nitrate at the port, rippled across the Lebanese capital, killing at least 135 people, injuring more than 5,000 and causing widespread destruction. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

But Velasquez also saw resilience and a community that immediately came together to help those who needed aid. 

   

"We saw people walk out to the streets right away and start cleaning up, moving glass, taking total strangers and bringing them to hospitals for medical attention...the city went into crisis management right away," he said.

Velasquez said the explosion was especially devastating given the recent economic collapse in Lebanon — a collapse that has seen the Lebanese currency lose 80% of its value and resulted in limited access to electricity.

As the Lebanese people look to rebuild in the coming days and months, Velasquez says Mercy Corps will provide acute disaster support but also focus on long-term transformative change. He emphasized system level changes that make the local institutions stronger and more accountable.

Above all, Velasquez underscored the strength of the Lebanese people.

"It is a terrible situation of massive destruction, but I also want to stress, if there is one group of people that know how to stand up if they're given the resources, that are willing and able, it is the Lebanese people," Velasquez said.

You can support Mercy Corps's relief efforts in Lebanon here.

Watch the full interview: