The blast destroyed 100 percent of the country’s grain reserves, said David Beasley, executive director of the UN World Food Program. “The explosion impacts this city,” he told me in Beirut on Aug. 11, “but the loss of the port and its silos impacts the whole country.” Without international help, he said, the city may have only a 2½ weeks’ supply of bread.
The blast sent hundreds of patients to area hospitals the first night, many facilities already strained by a surge in COVID-19 cases across the Middle East. During the week of the blast, Lebanon recorded 309 new cases of the coronavirus and seven deaths in one 24-hour period, a record.
As residents learned the government knew of the ammonium nitrate stockpiled at the port and did nothing to remove the dangerous chemical, they stormed government buildings and occupied Parliament on Aug. 7, demanding the government resign. On Aug. 10 it did.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab, in office just seven months, announced his Cabinet’s fall: “This disaster is the result of chronic corruption,” he said. “The corruption network is bigger than the state.”
And then it rained, a downpour complicating life for thousands made homeless and for other residents seeking the outdoors for social distancing. It never rains in Lebanon in August, and Beirut’s cleanup crews and pedestrians stopped to stand in the middle of glass-strewn streets, looking at the sky, wondering what’s next.