Beirut residents learn to cope with trauma after explosion

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BEIRUT | Tania cannot be alone in a room. For several days, Carla believed the war was beginning. The trauma remains acute for the Beirutis who survived the devastating explosion at the port, confronted daily with the spectacle of their devastated city.

In a Lebanon scarred by decades of terrorist attacks and wars – the last in 2006 – the explosion of August 4, which left at least 171 dead and more than 6,000 injured, shook the capital and woke up some wounds of the past.

At the first rumblings, Carla went out on her balcony in the district of Geitaoui, hit hard.

“I thought it was an air raid. I associated the noise with what I remembered from the 2006 war, ”says the woman whose windows shattered under the effect of the powerful blast.

She rushed into the stairwell. Her neighbor, an old lady, calmly opened her door to take out the swept glass at her house.

“A reflex dating from the war. When something breaks, we sweep away, ”explains the 28-year-old advertising woman who still does not have the strength to move back to her apartment. With her parents, she cannot sleep.

“A car passing in the street and I think it’s the noise of an airplane,” she continues. “Everything is a trigger (memories) of 2006. I never realized how much the war had marked and traumatized me.”

Door to door

In the devastated district of Karantina, where the balconies have a breathtaking view of the ruins of the port, Médecins du Monde teams go door to door to provide psychological support.

Tongues are just beginning to loosen.

“They talk and they tell you that it allows them to feel better, to vent their anger,” explains Noëlle Jouane, director of the NGO’s mental health program.

The psychological consequences of the explosion are clearly visible.

At the entrance to the devastated neighborhood of Mar Mikhaël, a workman’s hammer blows on an iron plate startle an old man. He tucks his head into his shoulders and leans, with difficulty, against the hood of his car. “It’s nothing,” reassures a passerby.

Later, rumors circulated that a fire had broken out at the port. A wind of panic wins the inhabitants and the people clearing the rubble. Some start to run. Strangers call to each other to warn that we must leave. In the end, nothing serious.

“Let us not forget that this happens when in Lebanon the whole of society was already experiencing psychological pressures”, underlines Rima Makki, director of mental health activities with Doctors Without Borders, evoking the economic collapse of the country and the pandemic again. coronavirus.

“A traumatic incident of this magnitude will obviously have repercussions,” she said, evoking different reactions and varying in amplitude from one person to another.

She cites in particular panic, fear or even a certain detachment from reality, “normal reactions to abnormal events”.

“Guilty of having survived”

“The first two days, I cried constantly,” says Tania, a 32-year-old accountant, who was in the city center at the time of the explosion.

“I was like ‘why are you crying, your family is safe, others are dead.’ It’s as if I felt guilty for having survived, ”adds the mother of two.

Her bruises are reminiscent of what happened, but she has few memories of the moment of the explosion. Even today, it’s impossible to be alone.

“During the day it’s easier, but at night, I can’t. I’m asking someone to stay by my side, ”she says.

Any noise makes her jump, she is wary of doors and windows. “When I open a window, I’m afraid it will explode in my face.”

Omar is haunted by the idea that he could have been disfigured or died if he had been home.

“The kitchen knives were stolen, all the windows exploded in the house,” says the thirty-something, two colleagues of whom were killed.

“I don’t know how anyone can get past something like that,” continues the visual artist. “You go on with your life, but you go on with it differently.”

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