Maritime Lebanese community reacts to tragic Beirut explosion
HALIFAX -- Members of the Lebanese community in the Maritimes spent Tuesday and Wednesday desperately reaching out to family and friends in Beirut, praying to find them safe.
On Tuesday, an explosion ripped through the city – killing over 100 people, injuring more than 5,000 and leaving countless others homeless. The blast was so powerful that it obliterated windows at the city's international airport – nine kilometres away. Additionally, seismologists have measured the explosion as the equivalent of a 3.3 magnitude earthquake.
In Nova Scotia, the Lebanese community has deep roots, dating back to the arrivals of the first immigrants from the country in the mid-1880s. The majority of people in the community today still have family and friends in Lebanon.
Elsy Makhlouf moved to Halifax in 2015 to attend university as an international student. In 2019, her parents moved from Beirut to join her and her brother in Halifax. However, she has grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends who still live and work in Beirut.
Upon hearing news of the explosion on Tuesday, Makhlouf frantically began making calls and sending messages to her relatives. She was relieved once she contacted all of her family members and discovered no one in her immediate circle was hurt. However, a man who was once her neighbour died in the blast.
“I spent the whole day crying,” says Makhlouf. “I called my clients today and said ‘I can’t work today; it’s a day off, a day to mourn.’”
“[It’s] a day to light up candles, to pray for Lebanon – that’s what we should do today,” adds Makhlouf.
More Maritime Reaction
Stephanie Mirad is a Lebanese Canadian living in Halifax. She says the events in Beirut have left her feeling fear, sadness, anger, disappointment all at once – to the point of becoming numb.
“It's very difficult to see your home on fire when you're so far, and you can't really do anything about it,” says Mirad.
Mirads sentiments reflect how many Lebanese Canadians in the Maritimes feel concerning the tragic event.
For Ray and Hassan Kasseen in Sydney, N.S., hearing information coming out of Lebanon has been heartbreaking.
“We've head of people we know that have passed away; we've heard of people that are missing,” says Ray. “Nobody from my family was hurt, but everybody back home is family – people are family.”
“It's so hard to think with what is happening,” says Hassan. “You want to be there to help out – it's quite hard.”
In Saint John, Alex Harram is fearful of what will happen next.
“The last thing the Lebanese people, or Lebanon, needs is this,” says Harram. “They've already been living [through] terrible times the last couple of years, and this is unexpected.”
Nova Scotia Immigration Minister Lena Metlege Diab says Lebanon is a small country geographically, and it's likely everybody there has a loved one affected by the tragedy.
Nova Scotians understand what it's like to be hurt; they understand what it's like to feel sorrow and pain,” says Diab. “But, they’re resilient, as Lebanese people are, and they understand that you’ve got to pull together.”
A Time For Action and Prayer
Diab notes Maritimers are looking to help in any way they can.
“We will figure that out,” says Diab. “I think, right now, we're in the stages of what’s happening and where we're at and what we can do.”
At Saint Antonios Antiochian Orthodox Church, Father Maximos Saikali has been praying for Beirut, its citizens, and the country.
“For 15 kilometres, there was destruction,” says Saikali. “I have my in-laws about two kilometres from the explosion, and their homes were shattered.”
Saikali says he has been hearing from many people inside and outside the Lebanese community who want to help. The church had already been raising money to help provide medical supplies and aid in the country, which has been facing economic collapse and struggling under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, he says those efforts will focus on doing the same for the people of Beirut.
“Children, adults, all – they want to help,” says Saikali. “This is the beauty of the community.”
For parishioner Affaf El-Jakl, the explosion has compounded the struggle for a city that was already in a state of duress.
“Not only were we dealing with political, economic, and social hardships,” says El-Jakl. “This is just too much.”
El-Jakl says Lebanon needed help from the international community even before the explosion.
“I think it’s time for the global community to stand up for Lebanon, and see what can be done to help this amazing country, that’s not even the size of Nova Scotia,” says El-Jakl.
And others agree.
“We know that they are strong people,” says Makhlouf. “But it’s time to act; we can’t stay quiet.”
Meanwhile, Father Saikali has written a letter to the federal government, urging Ottawa to provide aid to Lebanon in the aftermath of the explosion – with the world focused on a city that will need to be rebuilt.