BEIRUT: Lebanese came out in their thousands onto the streets of Beirut Wednesday for a moment of national grief to mourn victims and express unity against the ruling class as the country marked one year since the devastating explosion at the port.
Men, women and children of all ages marched from different locations across the city, passing through the areas worst affected from the blast to congregate by the emigrant statue next to the port. Citizens carried the national flag and photographs of those who died, as well as banners demanding that justice be served.
Many took the decision to come to express solidarity with those who died in the explosion, which claimed the lives of 214 people and injured 6,500. The largely peaceful crowd erupted in spontaneous applause when groups holding portraits of the bereaved passed by. Crowds cheered the Karantina Fire Brigade, which drove by in procession to honor their 10 colleagues who were killed while trying to extinguish the fire that led to the blast.
“I came to stand with the people who lost friends and family, not because we have hope that our government will do something from what we are doing today, but just to be here for the people who lost,” one young woman who had come to Sassine Square to join the crowds told The Daily Star.
Beirut was quiet all morning as the government declared a national day of mourning, shutting shops, state offices, businesses, banks and other services, leaving streets devoid of cars and pedestrians until the afternoon.
As the day neared 6:07 p.m., exactly one year to the minute since the explosion, around 5,000 people had filled the highway between the port and the adjacent skyline of buildings still hollowed out from the blast. Giant banners reading “Hostages of a murderous state,” and “3 people died here” adorned apartment blocks.
The lack of any credible answers as to the horror of Aug. 4, 2020, which was labeled as one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in the world, has left much of the population angry and disillusioned at the state of the country, particularly as it collapses into economic depression.
Many have blamed the disaster on decades of state-level corruption and negligence, while over the last few months evidence has mounted pointing responsibility toward senior government figures, including the prime minister and president.
"We are asking this government, the president, all the authorities for justice for all the victims. We need to know the truth,” Adham Rifai, who had traveled with friends from Baalbeck to join the crowds in Beirut, told The Daily Star.
“There should be no immunity to any of the authorities, especially those in Parliament,” the 24-year-old added.
Others gathered told The Daily Star that they knew the large turnout today would not be enough to change the state of the country, but it was a symbolic act to warn the government that the people and the revolution movement of October 2019 were still present.
Fadi Kabet, 57, whose home in Rmeil had been destroyed in the explosion, told The Daily Star that he did not have faith in an investigation into the blast, but that his hope was in the power of the people who turned out Wednesday.
“Our houses, our homes and our friends are dead. And actually, we want to say to our government that they don’t represent us, they don’t represent anyone of us,” he said as he stood on the street, the port’s broken and rotting grain silos behind him an unintended symbol of the explosion.
He said that every day he still finds reminders of the explosion. Many of the 77,000 housing units that were pulverized remain in such a state, while some neighborhoods remain littered with debris.
“This place is very emotional for us; we live here, our childhood, our friends, our neighbors. We are from this city and every time we look around us we do not see our country or our city – we cannot forget about it.”