Lebanese Montrealers devastated by Beirut explosion hold vigil, send help

The Lebanese community in Montreal has come together quickly to start organizing and sending money back home.

Community has quickly come together to start organizing and sending money back home

Montrealers gathered to hold a vigil at Dorchester Square. Some Lebanese Montrealers have moved swiftly to send help back to loved ones in Beirut. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

Montrealers gathered to hold a vigil on Wednesday night in memory of those who were killed or hurt in the deadly explosion in Beirut. 

Many had watched in horror on Tuesday as footage of a massive explosion at a warehouse in Beirut made the rounds on social media.

Camille Nassar, who was born in Lebanon and moved to Montreal a decade ago, told CBC that it was "devastating" to behold.

​"Our heart is aching, our heart is bleeding," he said. "I know the area stone by stone, door by door. These are my neighbours. These are my friends."

The explosion near the centre of Beirut killed at least 135 people, injured thousands and sent shock waves across the Lebanese capital, shattering windows and causing apartment balconies to collapse.

The blast occurred in the city's port area. Lebanon's interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, which had been seized years ago and stored there, had blown up.

Nassar said because Lebanon is a small country, everyone knows someone who was affected by the explosion.

Hanadi Saad, founder of Justice Femme, was born in Lebanon and moved to Canada with her family in 1991. Now she's organizing a relief fund for people affected by the blast in Beirut. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

He said his uncle and cousin were both injured in the blast.

Having lived in Lebanon from 1976 to 2006, Nassar said the blast brought back memories of the war. Still, this explosion surpassed any he'd experienced during that period.

"The whole war years we never witnessed that," he said. "It is tough. It is beyond words."

He said the Lebanese community in Montreal has quickly come together to start organizing and sending money back home.

There are currently two relief funds, through the Canadian Red Cross and through a Quebec group called Justice Femme.

Beirut explosion came at a breaking point for the country

3 years ago
Duration 2:10
After enduring crisis after crisis, it was inevitable the fragile situation in Lebanon was about to blow up, says freelance journalist and Concordia alumna Fatima Dia, who witnessed Tuesday's explosion in Beirut.

Hanadi Saad, who lives on Montreal's South Shore, is the founder of Justice Femme. She was born in Lebanon and moved to Quebec with her family in 1991.

"My heart was there yesterday," she told CBC. "My heart is broken. All my childhood I lived in Lebanon, and I was born in civil war. It reminds me of the war."

Her group started a crowdfunding campaign with a goal of $10,000 on Tuesday night. They will give the money raised to the Red Cross and to different non-profit organizations working in the region.

Camille Nassar, born in Lebanon, said his uncle and cousin were both injured in the blast. (CBC)

She said she learned this morning that her cousin had died in the explosion.

"I want to be there but I cannot help," said Saad. "I feel like my hands are tied."

She said the country was already dealing with a financial crisis on top of the pandemic, and this is the last thing people in Lebanon need.

"I don't know if we can rebuild," she said. "No one wants to stay there anymore. Because there's no future there anymore."

Joseph Daoura, a lawyer and municipal councillor in Town of Mount Royal, said that he is one of many people who fled Lebanon during the war, but still feels very connected to his homeland.

"It's a very difficult situation where all the Lebanese and all the diaspora live all around the world," he said. "They still have Lebanon in their hearts."

Daoura, who was born there and left in 1982, told CBC that he's already seen an outpouring of support for his home country following the deadly incident.

"Quebecers have already shown a great sympathy and empathy," said Daoura. 

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Verity Stevenson and Lauren McCallum