As It Happens

Beirut bride seen in viral video says she thought she was 'about to die'

A video of Dr. Israa Seblani in her wedding gown at the time of a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, has been seen around the world. Seblani tells As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner what that moment was like.

Dr. Israa Seblani looked radiant in her wedding gown — but then her city exploded

The day after an explosion shook Beirut's port area, bride Israa Seblani returns to the same place where she was taking her wedding photos at the moment the blast occurred. (Yara Abi Nader/Reuters)
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It's a video that's been seen around the world. 

Dr. Israa Seblani stands radiant in her wedding gown and veil as a camera pans from her smiling face to her long, lace-covered dress, capturing the bride outside a cafe before her wedding in Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday.

But the idyllic scene is shattered when more than 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate explodes in the city's busy port.

Seblani is a Lebanese doctor who lives in the U.S., but had returned to her home country to get married and spend time with the family and partner she left behind while she's been studying medicine.

She spoke with As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner from Beirut.

I am so sorry for what you've been through this week. How are you and your husband holding up? 

Well, actually, we are still shocked of what happened with us. Till now we can't believe what happened that day. All we can say now is to thank God that we're still alive. 

Can you take me back to Tuesday, your wedding day. People all around the world have seen the video of you looking elegant, radiant in your white dress, and then the explosion. Can you describe that moment? 

Well, that day, you know, I was taking some photos while when I was wearing the white dress feeling myself, "I'm a princess" that day. And [for] a few seconds, I started to see heavy smoke in the in the sky and the cloud colour started to change from blue to pink. Then that heavy smoke ended up as a catastrophic explosion. 

It just took a few seconds from hearing that explosion until being hit by it. The nice place I was taking the picture in, turned into ghost town filled with shattered glass, dust and people were yelling, shouting and bleeding.

I was talking to myself like "Israa, you are dying now; you're about to die. You're going to lose your husband, your life, your dream." I was just praying for one thing, which is to have one second, before I die, to see my parents and hold their hands and tell them goodbye. 

A wedding photographer captured the explosion's impact while recording a bridal video. The bride is seen being led to safety. 0:29

You believed that you were going to die? 

Yes.

As you were having these thoughts, what what what was going on around you?

The people who were dining and and other people who were shopping, the other who were walking, all these people were — after the explosion, I mean — yelling, they were shouting, crying, bleeding. 

What did you do?

Well, when the explosion happened, my husband ran towards me. And he told me, "Let's go to a safer place. Let's hide ourselves." So we went into the cafe. 

I saw the people shocked, were crying, as I told you. I remembered myself when I used to be in a hospital, especially in  in an emergency department, wearing the white coat. I followed the same situation but here I was wearing a white dress and not a lab coat. So I felt like I have to do something. I have to give them some help. So I started to help some people, cleaned the injury and relax them, until we went out from that place. 

Can you describe for me what it physically felt like when that explosion went off? 

Like the pressure of the explosion, it just pushed my body to the other side. As I told you, the dust, the glass was hitting us. When I start to recognize what really happened when I was in the safe place in the restaurant, when I look at myself and my husband and the photographer also, who was with us, thank God nothing happened to us.

But when I put off my dress at night, [pieces of] glass were falling down on the ground. 

Pieces of glass were inside your dress.

Yes.

But you weren't cut.

No, thanks God.

But this was still your wedding day. Were you and your husband able to celebrate in any way? 

Oh, not really, as we've planned, because, you know, that day I didn't feel that there was a place for happiness or to have fun or to continue the thing I had been waiting for for like three years. What we did actually was driving back home, my husband looked at me and he noticed that shocked expression on my face and the tears in my eyes. And he was like, "Hey, Israa, please, stay strong as I saw you there. We're going to continue. We're going to do what we can just to make you happy and to continue this day."

And what we did, actually, is just we went to my parents' home, we did the ceremony and we had we had dinner. Like a really small gathering. Just my parents and his parents. No one else.

So the actual marriage ceremony took place after you lived through this explosion?

Correct. Yes.

What was that like?

Oh, let me be honest. Everything was fake. Not a real smile, not really happiness. Not even the words I was saying. We were all shocked, but we have to do what we have to do. 

Seblani poses for a picture with her husband, Ahmad Subeih. (Yara Abi Nader/Reuters)

You are still in Beirut. The city, the country is reeling. How are you processing everything that's happened to you this week?

Yeah, I can tell you that Lebanon, not only Beirut, is crying, and we feel so sorry for this. So now I have a really a hard time to choose between leaving this country, leaving my husband to go back to USA, because I have to for my work and my study, or stay in Lebanon with this bad situation. So it's hard for me to decide.

But all what I know for now is I have to stay at least a couple weeks until I give something to my country because my country needs me and my husband needs me beside him. I can't guarantee if I travel and came back to Lebanon, I can find him alive. So also, I'm working on something, maybe we can travel together. 

You say your country needs you and and you describe the country in mourning. There's also so much anger that we have seen. How do you think Lebanon will be able to deal with this? How will it recover?

Well Lebanon has passed through a lot for many years. And each time it falls, it rise up again. I have faith in Lebanese people and their power. They always have hope. Lebanese people love to live. We are strong. If we stay all together, if we help each other, we can make it.

Could you bring your husband to the United States where you live? 

That's what I'm working on, actually, because we have been apart for three years and I think we had enough. It's the time to be together. 

Do you see a future for yourselves in Lebanon? 

Well, here in Lebanon, it's too difficult. Maybe one day … but I'm telling you this — I have to leave from this country because it's too difficult to live here. That's just for one reason. I'm looking for a safe place to my children in the future. I'm not looking for any other thing like money or wealth or anything. No, I just want a safe place for my future kids.


Written by Brandie Weikle. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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