A Manitoban man says his brother surviving a large explosion was "miraculous," but almost two-dozen of his friends were not as lucky.
Saleh Al-Hussein from Blumenort says 22 close friends of his perished in the massive explosion that levelled Beirut on Tuesday.
Al-Hussein has lived in Blumenort for three years now and works at Keystone Agrimotive in Steinbach. Before he was a tractor mechanic though, Al-Hussein worked on a seaside port in Beirut, Lebanon, for the very same company that was incinerated in the recent explosion. His brother, Mamhoud, was still employed at the facility but happened to have the day off work Tuesday; a fact that saved his life.
"It's a really hard feeling because we are missing 22 friends so far," says Al-Hussein, still very much in shock. "22 people died and all of them had families with kids and its really really sad. I cannot believe it because I used to work with all of them. They're all nice people."
While Al-Hussein was personally connected to many fatalities, the scope of the event was significantly larger. So far, nearly 140 people have been confirmed dead and thousands more injured. The blast is now believed to have been linked to a substantial supply of unsecured Ammonium nitrate that was being stored in a warehouse. The moderately toxic chemical is commonly used in agriculture. From what Al-Hussein's brother tells him, several of the fatalities were people rushing to the scene to try and help the wounded. Apparently, when ignited, the chemicals became so harmful that people died simply from their proximity to the site.
Al-Hussein says it is difficult to know what to feel. While he is overjoyed at the "miraculous" survival of his brother, it is unsettling to have so much of his past suddenly and completely wiped off the face of the planet.
"It's gone. There is no more building. And the people who used to work there... nobody is alive. All of the people died there except for the ones taking holidays."
Al-Hussein has been sent countless videos and photographs of the explosion from friends and family who remain in Beirut. When the explosion happened, he says the entire city knew it instantly.
"My brother lives 50 km away from that place and he says all of the windows around him and all of the doors were broken. He wasn't there but he heard that explosion, all of Beirut did."
Though Al-Hussein himself was not in Beirut when the city was decimated, he says he can relate to the sheer horror residents must still be feeling. Before his three year stint in Lebanon, he grew up in war-torn Syria. "I was living a normal life," offers Al-Hussein who says was running his own company and had just gotten married when a bomb tore through his house, devastating everything he had worked for.
"My house got bombed and I was there under the ground for a full day," he explains. When Al-Hussein was finally pulled from the rubble, his body was covered in gashes and burns. He was taken to hospital but essentially presumed dead. Two months later, he walked out in one piece.
He says the trauma of the Beirut explosion brings to mind his own experience, tearing new scars into his psyche and ripping open old ones at the same time.
"My brain just can't handle this anymore," he sighs. "We moved from a war country to Lebanon to keep our family and kids safe, but nothing is safe in this world."
Though the sorrow he has experienced in recent days surpasses what many people will ever feel, Al-Hussein commends the efforts of local Manitobans who have reached out to offer their help. He thanks both his church in Blumenort and his workplace for being amazing supports during this time more than ever. He says his church right now is assisting Mamhoud with paperwork, hoping to bring him and his young family to the region. Meanwhile, his boss has offered Mamhoud a job at Keystone Agrimotive if he is ever able to safely fly to Canada.