Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay, Ont. man with ties to Beirut left feeling 'hopeless' after deadly explosion

Robert Skaf Skaf is originally from Beirut, and moved to northwestern Ontario in the 1970s to escape the Lebanese Civil War. He said since then, he continues to watch as the people in Lebanon suffer, adding that the latest tragedy will have a “devastating impact."

Even though he's thousands of kilometres away, the Beirut blast is hitting home for Thunder Bay's Robert Skaf

Robert Skaf owns and operates Skaf's Just Basics in Thunder Bay, Ont. As he stands in the aisles of his grocery store, the world around him is seemingly normal. But thousands of kilometres away, his former home of Beirut faces massive devastation and destruction. (CBC)

Over the last week, the world around Robert Skaf has carried on as usual. But, for the Thunder Bay grocery store owner, nothing has felt the same since Tuesday; the day a deadly explosion blew through Beirut, Lebanon.

"It is difficult to describe the emotions I am going through because I'm angry, I'm sad, I am hurting, and I feel hopeless and helpless because basically what happened in Lebanon is tragic. People have been suffering for decades," said Skaf, while holding back tears. 

Skaf is originally from Beirut, and moved to northwestern Ontario in the 1970s to escape the Lebanese Civil War. He said since then, he continues to watch as the people in Lebanon suffer, adding that the latest tragedy will have a "devastating impact."

"Nobody is doing well. Everybody's hurting emotionally or physically," he said when asked about family who remain in Lebanon. "I don't know how much more they can take."

The explosion happened when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical, which had been stored for years at the port, ignited. Around 135 people died, about 5,000 were injured and another 300,000 people have been left without a place to live. 

A view shows damages at the site of Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area. It appears ammonium nitrate had been stored in a warehouse at the dock for six years. (Aziz Taher/Reuters)

Since Tuesday, residents of Beirut have been directing their fury at Lebanon's leaders blaming them for the deadly explosion.

Skaf echoes the anger felt in the country's capital, adding that he has no hope for the future of his home country.

"I'm sorry to tell you that I'm very pessimistic. I see no hope. Basically it's not just Lebanon that's suffering, it's the entire Middle East from Lebanon to Syria to Israel to Yemen to Iraq," he said.

"There are people there — I call them merchants of death — those are the people that do the wheeling and dealing. Their only interest is to get rich ... by making people suffer."

Skaf became emotional at the thought of the future of Beirut, adding that there is "no hope from the local governments."

"I am hoping that generous nations — like our country Canada, and the U.S. and France, Britain — deliver assistance," he said.

On Wednesday, Canada announced up to $5 million in humanitarian assistance will be provided to help Lebanon and its people recover from the explosion. An initial $1.5 million of that funding will go to the Lebanese Red Cross to provide emergency medical services, shelter and food for those affected.

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