August 4th, 2020 began no different to any other day for the struggling port of Beirut. Against a background of economic meltdown, government inertia and the added impediment of a pandemic, the under-funded facility was one of the few enterprises feeding export income into the stagnant economy of Lebanon.
When a fire broke out in Warehouse 12, the crew discovered the warehouse held approximately 2,750 tonnes of confiscated ammonium nitrate, alongside a stash of fireworks.
Seconds later an explosion of fireworks, with the force of a truckload of TNT, tore through the walls of the warehouse and ignited the stored ammonium nitrate causing a second blast, so powerful, it was heard 150 miles across the Mediterranean in Cyprus.
Even in a city inured to the sounds of explosions and war, the scale of the blast was awesome.
The all-encompassing concussion, immediately followed by a huge mushroom cloud caused many to fear a nuclear weapon had fallen into the hands of extremists.
Over 200 people were dead, 6,000 were injured and 300,000 of Beirut’s two million population were rendered homeless.
A massive international relief effort was launched.
Among those rising to the challenge were Rotary clubs throughout South Wales alerted by Beirut Cosmopolitan Rotary who focussed efforts on the devastated public hospital in Karantina.
In a country with no established health care system, the hospital is the only source of help for the city’s poor.
Over 200 people were dead, 6,000 were injured and 300,000 of Beirut’s two million population were rendered homeless.”
The operating theatre for paediatric and neonatal patients was destroyed, along with most of the paediatric wing.
President of Beirut Cosmopolitan Rotary, Habib Saba said: “We decided to focus our efforts on projects that had a longer term impact, noting that immediate relief items were already getting adequate attention.
“Our primary focus was providing the necessary medical equipment for the paediatric wing.
“There are many needy projects in the wake of the explosion, but these are the immediate priorities for us.”
Clubs in Bridgend, Pontypool and Barry are among those who have joined Beirut Cosmopolitan in raising funds.
We decided to focus our efforts on projects that had a longer term impact, noting that immediate relief items were already getting adequate attention.”
Pontypool President, Doug Warren, said: “The response, not only by Pontypool, but also by other Rotary clubs throughout South Wales and, I am sure, by other clubs within the worldwide Rotary family, epitomizes the role of Rotary everywhere.
“It is difficult to understand and absorb the effect such a tragedy has had on families and life in general in Beirut.
“From its very beginnings, Rotary has set out to provide a service above self-providing help and support to those in need.”
Habib said they were submitted a Global Grant application, which was supported by the Welsh clubs.
He added: “As well as the restoration and replacement of paediatric equipment, we have been concentrating on glass and window repairs, food distribution to families in affected areas and the establishment of a community centre to help the needy.”
Habib Saba, Rotary Club of Beirut Cosmopolitan