'I didn't want to die': Beirut resident recalls moments of panic after blast

Rawane Al Zahed remembers running through her home to check on her family after she heard blasts rip through Beirut and felt the ground shake beneath her feet.

Al Zahed, who has filed paperwork to join her husband — a permanent resident of Canada — in Vancouver, lives about five kilometres from the site of the blast that killed at least 100 on Tuesday and wounded thousands.

A long-time Montreal resident is among the dead, a city councillor said, and the federal government confirmed a member of the Canadian Armed Forces suffered injuries that are not life-threatening.

Al Zahed, 24, said she felt two explosions a few seconds apart from each other. The first felt like an earthquake, while the second sent shockwaves through the fifth-floor apartment where she lives with her family.

"I was super afraid," Al Zahed said. "I didn't want to die. I was screaming, 'I don't want to die now.'"

That second explosion left a wood and iron door cracked, and shattered the television screen in her house, she said.

Al Zahed said she could hear people screaming on the floors and streets below her apartment, even as windows shattered and a few balconies collapsed.

There was another moment of panic when her husband couldn't get through to her because she was getting calls from other friends and family, she said.

Later that night, Al Zahed said she called her husband. He tried to lighten the mood with a couple jokes, but she said she was still far too panicked to sleep.

"I wake up, I tweet. I wake up, I open Facebook. I want to see what's happening," she said. "All I can think of (is) how I ran. All I can remember (is) when I ran."

What caused the blast remains unclear, but it appears to have been triggered by a fire and it struck with the force of an earthquake.

It was the most powerful explosion ever seen in the city, which was split in half by the 1975-1990 civil war and has endured conflicts with neighbouring Israel and periodic bombings and terror attacks.

There was no evidence the explosion was an attack. Instead, many Lebanese blamed it on decades of corruption and poor governance by the entrenched political class that has ruled the tiny Mediterranean country since the civil war.

Lebanon was experiencing a severe economic crisis that has ignited mass protests in recent months. Its health system is confronting a surge of COVID-19, and there were concerns the virus could spread further as people flooded into hospitals.

Al Zahed said she's still trying to come to terms with what happened, noting that because of her age, she was spared from much of Lebanon's recent tragedy.

"I'm 24 years old. I didn't live through any other big Lebanese wars," Al Zahed said. "I was too young for the one in 2006, and I didn't pass through any trauma before like this one. It was really scary."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2020.

— With files from The Associated Press

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