"The destruction is massive; we must help those in need because the state is absent. I don't understand why people have not stormed the politicians' homes yet to express their anger," said Dana. Her aunt, in her fifties, was just as upset. "This country has not had a moment of peace in years. I hope the politicians do not take credit for the help that civil society is providing, "she said, exasperated.
While the authorities are yet to come up with a plan to shelter the three hundred thousand people who lost their homes this week, many volunteers are already on the ground cleaning up the city and welcoming the homeless into their own homes. On social networks, the Lebanese are calling for accountability with the hashtag "Hang them" trending on Twitter.
Daniel, a music producer, came to Beirut to participate in the rubble clearing operations. "I was in Gemmayze when the explosion took place. I was lucky enough to get out without a scratch, but my car was damaged. The least I can do is to help the victims of this disaster," he told L'Orient-Le Jour.
Further on, dozens of young people had just arrived from the city of Tyre and were walking toward the Gemmayze district to sweep the rubble from Notre-Dame du Rosaire hospital, which was severely hit by the blast. Nour and Fatima, both theater students, were part of the group. "I was watching TV on Tuesday night and felt helpless in the face of so much chaos. I told myself that I had to go there if only to remove a few stones," 22-year-old Fatima told OLJ. "This explosion took place in Beirut, but it traumatized us all. The state is doing nothing so we have to help each other. That's what patriotism is all about," said Nour, 19.
"Adults, children, associations, scouts, guides, young girls in yellow vests and helmets, all armed with brooms and shovels were working hard to clear the streets. Needless to say, I did not see any municipal workers," said a passerby, pointing out to the flagrant absence of the authorities on the ground.
"What happened was a genocide"
Dozens of people gathered in Martyrs Square, where tents were erected on Wednesday at the same the site where the protesters used to gather a few months ago. These volunteers, many of whom took part in the October 17 protest movement, decided to set up a camp again in the capital to organize the debris removal operations and the distribution of humanitarian aid to the affected residents.
Clara sat in a tent surrounded by shovels, brooms, and helmets. She managed, along with a group of friends, to secure equipment from generous donors and organize a lending scheme for volunteers helping clean up the destroyed neighborhoods. "We lent the equipment to 650 people yesterday. Today, 300 volunteers have already borrowed our equipment, and the day is not over yet," she said.
Not far from the al-Amine mosque, Yousra Saab and her friends were chatting surrounded by bags of food and bottles of water. "We are a group of women who want to help those who have lost everything," said the young woman. Yesterday, we toured the Quarantine area. We distributed food aid there. But what was striking was the people who told us they could manage and asked us to help those who were most in need," Yousra added. "Today, some people dropped by to get something to eat, but I think the state needs to start taking matters into its own hands. It has only been about personal initiatives so far," she lamented.
Sitting in a tent with a dozen other volunteers, Anthony Doueihy was reviewing the day's program. "We managed to make a list of families who lost their homes in Mar Mikhaël and Gemmayze. We plan to distribute food, milk, water, and hygiene products to them," he told OLJ.
Drawing on his experience from the protest movement, Anthony succeeded in mobilizing 1,500 volunteers all over Beirut to clean up and repair the damage. "Put your leaders and faiths aside, and let's join hands. This state has committed a war crime. What happened was a real genocide," he said. "We are angry and sad, but now it is the sadness that wins out. When the capital recovers, our sadness will turn into anger," said Charif Sleiman, one of the group's volunteers.
In another tent, Sarah, a young girl in her twenties, was overseeing the packaging of food products. She is also among those who had actively participated in the protest movement. "We appealed for donations on social media, and people have been generous. We were able to get medicine, water, diapers, and milk for children," the young woman told OLJ. Her team, which has set up a mobile dispensary, visited destroyed neighborhoods and offered assistance to families who are still there. "Many have lost loved ones, so they can't express themselves. Anyway, we don't have the luxury of asking them questions, now is not the time to get emotional, "concluded the young woman.
(This report was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 7th of August)
A broom in her hand and a mask on her face, Dana was sweeping shards of glass in downtown Beirut, not far from the Martyrs Square. This 26-year-old dietitian came from the Tarik Jdide neighborhood with her aunt to remove the rubble, joining hundreds of fellow Lebanese who showed outpouring solidarity after Tuesday's explosions at the port of Beirut.
"The destruction is massive; we must help...