British Columbia·Video

Beirut explosion leaves these British Columbians horrified and pessimistic about Lebanon's future

Two British Columbians born in Lebanon — and a Beirut citizen trying to move to this province — say Tuesday's explosion was a shocking tragedy. They have little confidence their government will deal effectively with the aftermath.

'My mom was in the streets running for her life back home,' says Kelowna resident

A photo, taken by a friend of Rawane Al Zahed's, shows some of the aftermath of Tuesday's massive explosion in Beirut. (Rawane Al Zahed)

Salah Farrage has called Canada home since 1971, but now he can't stop thinking about Beirut and his family there as they deal with Tuesday's catastrophic explosion at the city's port. 

"You can never forget the place you're born in," said 69-year-old Farrage. "It's very hard."

Lebanon officials said Wednesday the blast killed 135 people and injured about 5,000 others.

Farrage and other Lebanese British Columbians say they were horrified by shocking video of the explosion, believed to be fuelled by tonnes of highly explosive fertilizer stored at the waterfront.

Salah Farrage has lived in Canada since 1971 but was born in Beirut. (CBC)

"It's too sad," he said. "I felt like it's one of the biggest tragedies that Lebanon ever went through."

But Farrage and others say they're worried about the country beyond the explosion as citizens grapple with an ongoing economic crisis and what they call a deeply corrupt government.

WATCH | Beirut resident Rawane Al Zahed tells how she experienced the explosion

Rawane Al Zahed describes the Beirut explosion that ripped through her home

2 years ago
Duration 1:14
Rawane Al Zahed, 24, says she's still shaking from the catastrophic explosion in Beirut.

'Everyone was screaming and running'

Tattoo artist Marwa El Charif moved to Kelowna from Beirut two-and-a-half years ago but she still keeps in touch with her friends there through WhatsApp.

She said they were chatting when one of her friends posted about the explosion.

"I went to check up on my parents," El Charif said.

"My mom was in the streets running for her life back home and I just couldn't understand anything she was saying.

Marwa El Charif is a tattoo artists in Kelowna. (@marrustattoos/Instagram)

"Then I saw the news and then on Instagram and, oh my God, it's just devastating, really. It's so sad."

Rawane Al Zahed, 24, was at the Beirut home of her husband's family when the explosion happened. 

She still lives in Beirut, but has applied for Canadian permanent residency and hopes to move soon to Vancouver, where her husband, Mazen Alaouie, lives.

Initially, she and Alaouie's family thought it was an earthquake.

Rawane Al Zahed, left, poses for a photo with her husband, Mazen Alaouie. (Rawane Al Zahed)

"Everyone was screaming and running from the kitchen to the living room," Al Zahed said. 

"We saw the big pink cloud and ... I'm shivering.

"I was screaming I don't want to die, and saying to God, please, God, be with me."

The family lives just a five minute drive from the blast, but miraculously, none of them were injured.

Few opportunities

The problems in Lebanon have Al Zahed deeply pessimistic. She sees few opportunities for young people like herself.

WATCH | Rawane Al Zahed tells of the hoplessness many young people in Lebanon feel

Rawane Al Zahed explains how 'meangingless' the future feels for Lebanese youth

2 years ago
Duration 1:01
Rawane Al Zahed, 24, describes the hopelessness experienced by many young people in Lebanon — even before the explosion.

"I'm just 24 and you feel like every plan you had in your life is totally gone," Al Zahed said. "Not because of the explosion only. We've been going through this like years before. Years and years. The government is corrupted."

Farrage, too, has no shortage of words for Lebanese politicians.

"They are thieves, they are criminals, they are worse than the mafia," he said. "They don't give a damn about anything."

El Charif said despite the underlying issues, the people of Beirut were still embracing life until the explosion.

"Lebanon is known as a country where there's a lot of culture. Fun is more prominent than work and stuff," she said.

"After this explosion there is no way things are going to go back to normal."

She is glad to see the international community committing money for reconstruction but questions how much the government can rebuild in the face of the country's economic crisis. Her biggest hope is the disaster helps the country put aside sectarian divisions.

Farrage said despite the problems, his hometown won't give up.

"We will rebuild Beirut," he said. "And Beirut will come back."

With files from Andrea Ross and CBC Radio One's Daybreak South


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