As It Happens·Q&A

Lebanese journalist describes office shattering around him in Beirut explosion

Hanna Anbar is used to covering war and violence — but he says he's never seen anything like Tuesday's massive explosion in the heart of Beirut.

'It's like an earthquake has hit the country,' says Hanna Anbar of the Daily Star

A picture shows a destroyed silo at the scene of an explosion at the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4. (Marwan Tahtah/AFP/Getty Images)

Read Story Transcript

Hanna Anbar is used to covering war and violence — but he says he's never seen anything like Tuesday's massive explosion in the heart of Beirut.

At least 100 people were killed, more than 4,000 injured in the explosion in the Lebanese capital city's port area. The blast was felt across the city, destroying homes, flipping cars, rattling buildings and tearing the balconies off apartments. 

Lebanon said the explosion was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, which was stored unsafely in a warehouse after being confiscated from a cargo ship in 2014. The government said Wednesday it is putting an unspecified number of Beirut port officials under house arrest pending an investigation

Anbar, the executive editor of the English-language Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star, was in his office when the blast hit, bringing his glass walls cashing down on him. He spoke to As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner on Tuesday about the explosion. Here is part of their conversation. 

To begin, how are you doing?

I'm OK. I mean, we had a shock today because our offices were shattered by the explosion. Luckily, no one was hurt. But our offices are destroyed. So it was a miracle, really, to get out alive

Can you describe that moment when the blast happened?

Everybody was in the office and it was around six o'clock and we were ready to send our evening news.

We are actually 500 metres or a little bit more from the explosion. But we thought it was an explosion in our building because everything crumbled. 

My room is made of glass so that I can see people working. So it was shattered. It all came next to me, and I did not get any splinter in my body. For why, I don't know.

I know you've been out on the streets of Beirut in the past hours. What have you seen?

Glass everywhere, every road. Because I made a tour to see what's happening. Every road. Every side road.

Of course, the area that is facing the port is really devastated. There is nothing. Nothing. Every building looks like it has been bombed. It's like an earthquake has hit the country.

I have seen the wars. I have covered the wars in this part of the world since 1965. That's 53 years ago. And during the civil war, there were always explosions. There were car bombs. But this was the most — well, it made the whole country panic. Even in Cyprus, apparently, they have heard the blast. So you can imagine what has happened.

Hospitals have reached full capacity and they are treating some of the minor injuries on the balconies or on the side roads of the hospitals.

An injured man is treated after the devastating explosion in Beirut. (Daniel Carde/Getty Images)

There appear to have been two explosions, and there are many, many explanations, theories about what caused them. Some people say it's a blaze from the fireworks factory. Some people are wondering whether it was detonation of a cache of explosive materials that was confiscated by the government years ago. What is the most credible explanation, in your view?

The most credible thing is there [was] nitrate acid that was stored there. 

A picture shows the scene of an explosion in Beirut on Tuesday. (Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images)

There is COVID. There is economic chaos. Lebanon has been been through so much. How will people cope with this now on top of all of that?

I really I have no description for this. The country is really going down, down, down every day. Salaries of people who are still working — because you have hundreds of thousands who already don't have any jobs — but the people who are still working, getting a salary, because of the devaluation of the Lebanese pound, the salaries is 10 per cent what it was last year.

Don't ask me why, how they survive. But if this situation continues between now and the end of the year, the poverty line will be really devastating in this country.

Firefighters spray water at a fire after the explosion occurred in Beirut. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

And you say that in a city that has just been devastated by this explosion.

The economy is at standstill completely. You see, we don't have lots of resources. We rely on tourism. We rely on investment from abroad. We rely on construction. We rely on import and export. You know, these are the factors that bring money into this country.

We have tens of first-class hotels. We have hundreds of restaurants. And all these are not functioning at the moment. And you can imagine how many people are involved working for these establishments who have nothing to do at the moment.

Your question, how are people coping, is really, really a very serious problem. And we don't know for how long we can cope with this situation. We cannot make plans for tomorrow or after tomorrow.

We make plans day by day. And we don't know where we're going. Honestly, we don't know where we're going.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now