The Current

'We had no hospital left': Lebanese doctor recounts aftermath of Beirut explosion

An already fractured Lebanon was left reeling in the wake of a devastating explosion in Beirut’s port. Sarah Haddad, a doctor in the city, describes how Beirut is struggling to cope with limited resources and infrastructure.

Sarah Haddad recounts victims being taken to other hospitals on motorcycles

Beirut port before and after Tuesday's explosion, which left 137 dead and 5000 injured. (Reuters)
Listen20:09

Read Story Transcript

The streets of Beirut were filled with cheers yesterday for French president Emmanuel Macron as he toured the wrecked city and called for urgent change. 

Tuesday's explosion in Beirut has decimated an already fractured society, and unprecedented political economic meltdowns have dashed any hope for a smooth recovery from this latest tragedy.

It's been barely four days since the streets were filled with screams after a deadly explosion at the central port city. With at least 137 dead and 5000 injured, the medical system is under a great strain already exacerbated by the spread of COVID-19. 

About 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate detonated in the explosion, an impact that experts equated to a minor earthquake. (CBC News)

Sarah Haddad is a neurologist who was working at Saint George's hospital just after the explosion. 

She spoke to Kelley about why she is determined to continue her work in spite of the trauma that she saw. 

Where were you and what was happening all around you?

That was the first time I finished before 6:00 in the evening. So I just went home, which is just across the street from the hospital. 

Then we were told that there had been a fire or a possible explosion, which was the first explosion that happened at the port of Beirut. And then the next thing we know, we were just blown away from where we were standing and sitting in the apartment all covered in glass. 

We heard two consecutive explosions and then everything just shook underneath us. We didn't know what had actually happened. 

Did you quickly head to the hospital at that point?

My first instinct was to just put on my white coat and just go to try to see what happened. Initially, I thought the hospital was safe. People are going to need us there. The biggest shock was to actually see that there was no hospital left. We don't know what's happened to the people inside the hospital. 

All we saw were people just across the street dead on the floor,  some were bleeding heavily, somewhat. We were just five people who were readily available at the moment.

I can only imagine this was a scene of chaos where you've got so many people being rushed to the hospital and yet you're trying to evacuate the hospital at the same time. How did you cope with all the injured?

Everyone who was injured was coming to the hospital because in everybody's mind, the hospital should offer help, [but] we were the ones we needed help.

Let me tell you, we didn't have any supplies on us. We were just assessing the scene, assessing who was severely injured and who was not severely injured. People were bleeding. We used their own shirts, their own clothes, to try to stop the bleeding … Luckily, we had people on their motorcycles coming with first aid. The police were not able to reach us because all the roads were blocked. 

We're taking people on their motorcycles to nearby hospitals. We made sure to call some of their families to just let them know that they are being transferred to the hospital so that they can go and find their loved ones dead. 

It was chaotic and we tried to do the best we could with the very minimal supplies, because we actually had none. We were not able even to suture people. All we did was just to calm them down, make sure that they were still responding to us, talking to us. 

We are furious. We want our answers. We didn't deserve this. No one prepared us for this.- Sarah Haddad

We've heard of many hospitals in Beirut that were damaged. How are you coping with all the wounded in Beirut right now?

All the wounded have been displaced and have been sent to multiple hospitals in Beirut and outside Beirut. 

The medical teams and the hospitals that were not affected are doing an excellent job. Everyone was taken care of within the first 24 hours. Some surgeries were happening in the same night. No one was left. Other hospitals were suturing people just outside the emergency rooms because they were all filled. We are trying to get back up. 

We started cleaning the scene at my hospital. We are going back to help assess the damage. All the hospitals around us are helping as well. Random people are coming and helping.

Riot police fire tear gas against anti-government protesters, during a protest against the political elites who have ruled the country for decades, in Beirut on Friday. (Hassan Ammar/The Associated Press)

Is part of you just angry that this happened in the first place?

Angry would be the [last] description of what I am feeling and what the Lebanese people are feeling. 

We were killed. Even those who are living, they are not living … Everyone has died, whether physically or whether on the inside. 

We are furious. We want our answers. We didn't deserve this. No one prepared us for this. Not the people of Beirut. Not the medical team. Not our families. Not anyone. No one. No one prepares you.


Written by Oliver Thompson. Produced by Lindsay Rempel and Sarah Peterson. Edited for length and clarity. 

now