Thanks to your immediate outpouring of love and generosity, critical aid is reaching our neighbors in Beirut. Matt Hackworth, senior advisor on our communications team, and Carrie Taneyhill, our humanitarian assistance director, are helping to launch the response with our team in Lebanon. Each day, they are reporting back about the tragic situation in Beirut and how your support is already making a difference.
CT:It’s a similar story for the Hammal family. Mohammad Hammal feels lucky to be alive. He left his job at Beirut’s port just a couple of hours before the Aug. 4 explosion. He sat with his mother and father, and his infant son, Rafic, watching the tragedy unfold. He had already been cut back to half time as an employee, putting a strain on the family’s finances. The next day he found out his job was gone. Health challenges mean his father cannot work, and like many in Lebanon the economic collapse means any money the family may have had in a bank is locked up, inaccessible. "There are a lot of hardships," Mohammad said. He wants to emigrate.
MH:The port is heavily guarded. Overnight the French amphibious landing ship Tonnere arrived with supplies. The port is heavily restricted to outsiders. It’s a sensitive area as investigations continue into the blast’s origins, rescue workers dig for remains, and now there’s a French warship to guard. We’re sent ping-ponging between the offices of the captain of the port and the army’s command center. Two hours of waiting. We decide to abandon the effort once it’s clear the Army won’t let anyone else into the port.
CT:But there’s still plenty of work to do. There are wire transfers to complete so our local colleagues can buy food for feeding hungry people.There are calls with potential partners who want to hear more about what we’ve seen and how we can collaborate to help.
MH: Camille Kadi is a local translator and guide. Camille guides us to the poorest neighborhood impacted by the blast. Quarantina (I’ve also seen it spelled, “Karentina”) adjoins the port facility and is home to dozens of blocks of squat, concrete tenements. It’s where the working class, the day laborers and cleaners and domestic workers live. That’s where we met Khayrallah Warde. News of our presence spreads in the apartment, and soon we’re invited to see everyone’s damage. Cracked ceilings. Blown out windows. Several ask if we’ll be handing out cash to help while we’re there. Complaints that people with cameras come to see the damage but no one comes to help.
"We’re coming," Carrie and I assure them. "We promise."
Sunday, Aug. 9
MH: I’ve never seen Dulles so empty. Qatar Airways issues everyone a face shield, with the requirement to wear it and a mask to board. Carrie and I are anxious to reach Beirut — and most concerned about entering. Will our test results be presented sufficiently for immigration officials to permit us to enter Lebanon? What will the PCR test on arrival be like? How will we get our results? Do we really have to quarantine for 48 hours after we land?
Thursday, Aug. 6
MH: I started the day interviewing a staff member who survived the blast. We shared her story right away so that it was clear our staff survived, and we had capacity to help. The decision to deploy staff came quickly, even with the added complications of traveling in the pandemic era. Lebanon’s government required proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 96 hours of arriving in Beirut. (Director of humanitarian assistance Carrie Taneyhill) and I scrambled to find testing sites near our homes that could process such a request. Thankfully, both of us were able to find testing sites and gained negative results that cleared us for travel.
CT: So far during the quarantine and times of COVID, I have been blessed to never actually need a test. Nor has anyone in my family. So finding myself suddenly needing to get a test AND get those results back within 72 hours so I could travel sent me into panic mode.
Wednesday, Aug. 5
MH: The tragic news coming out of Beirut was heartbreaking. Our neighbors there were suffering, and we knew we had to send help as quickly as possible. Thankfully, the generosity and love from people like you make it possible for Lutheran World Relief to respond when disasters strike. We formed a quick working group to share information and consider how we might help. We learned of a staff member who survived the blast, and began to lay the groundwork for a response. Our humanitarian assistance, Asia & the Middle East and communications staff connected to learn of needs on the ground from local staff.