Rita has not slept for a week as she awaits news of her son, her nephew and her son-in-law. Firefighters all three, they rushed to the port of Beirut before the explosion and have since been missing.
• Read also – “Mom, I don’t want to die”: traumatized children from Beirut
• Read also – Lebanon seeks new government, indifferent and angry street
“Whole or in pieces, we want our children,” says this 48-year-old woman, with dark circles under her eyes. She has lost hope of seeing her family alive again.
“We have been waiting for the remains of our children for six days, for them to return one piece, two, but something,” she repeats, exhausted.
In the living room of the family home with its traditional arcades, in the mountain village of Qartaba in the northeast of Beirut, dozens of relatives, friends and dark-looking neighbors are gathered around her.
The women do not say a word, the men speak in low voices, the young people go back and forth to the main street.
On a wall near the entrance to the house, a large photo of the three men, smiling and in costume, was hung, with the words “the heroes” against the backdrop of the smoking port of Beirut. Najib Hitti was 27 years old, his cousin Charbel 22, and his brother-in-law Charbel Karam 37.
On August 4, the Beirut firefighters were warned of a fire at the port, very close to their headquarters. The trio is one of ten firefighters sent to the scene, without knowing what awaits them in warehouse number 12.
The team tries to force the locked door of the building, without knowing that dangerous materials are stored there, says Georges Hitti, who rushed to the port on Tuesday evening in search of his relatives.
“I started screaming like crazy: Charbel, Najib, Charbel! Then I started to cry, ”he says, his gaze hidden behind dark glasses.
This fire probably caused the explosion of a huge amount of ammonium nitrate stored in this hangar, which devastated entire neighborhoods of the Lebanese capital, killing more than 160 and injuring 6,000.
A member of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), who survived the powerful blast, told Mr Hitti that an ISF patrol had asked firefighters to move away. Too late: the explosion mowed them down.
“We gave them heroes, they made us martyrs,” said Rita, with anger mixed with bitterness, a badge with the photo of the three young people pinned to the chest. “We burn slowly, a hundred times a day, as they burned our sons in the port.”
Her daughter Karlen, a mother of two young children, lost her husband, brother and cousin. She holds back her tears, without a word.
Little help from the authorities
The authorities have remained deaf to the pleas of the families of the missing who wanted to participate in the search.
“I told them: ‘Let us look for them, I know the scent of my children, I will be able to find them,” “said the tearful mother.
The Lebanese army announced on Sunday that the search operations were over. Five bodies were found on Monday but have not yet been identified.
The family of the three firefighters does not hide their anger. “We learn on television that our sons have fallen as martyrs while we are still waiting for them,” protests Rita.
“Martyrs? Our sons are the martyrs of treachery, ”she adds, attacking those responsible for having“ concealed ”the presence of this ammonium nitrate.
The Lebanese authorities have promised a quick investigation but have not yet announced anything on the subject, and the various services involved are mutually blaming each other.
The family of firefighters, not having confidence in the Lebanese authorities, calls for an international investigation.
The bodies of two firefighters have already been found at the site of the explosion as well as the driving license of Najib Hitti, driver of the truck.
“All we hope is to be able to identify their remains thanks to DNA analysts”, says Georges Hitti. “We are awaiting the return of our young people and we will not organize a funeral, we will celebrate their return.”