'You don’t understand the scale of it': Irish woman knocked unconscious briefly in Beirut blast

The massive explosion at the city’s port sent shock waves across the Lebanese capital, killing dozens of people and wounding thousands
'You don’t understand the scale of it': Irish woman knocked unconscious briefly in Beirut blast
A cloud from a massive explosion is seen in in Beirut, Lebanon on Tuesday. Picture: AP Photo/Hassan Ammar

An Irish woman living in Beirut has told of her concern about being able to reopen her café and book store which was seriously damaged in yesterday’s explosion.

The massive explosion at the city’s port sent shock waves across the Lebanese capital, killing dozens of people and wounding thousands.

Smoke was still rising from the port, where a towering grain silo was shattered. Major downtown streets were littered with debris and damaged vehicles, and building facades were blown out.

Niamh Fleming-Farrell, a native of Laois suffered scratches to her face, bruising to her back and was knocked unconscious briefly when caught in the blast which occurred less than a kilometre away in the docks.

It was unclear what caused the blast, which appeared to have been triggered by a fire near a storage facility housing volatile chemicals.

Ms Fleming-Farrell told RTÉ radio’s News at One that she was standing outside her shop, which is closed at present because of the Covid-19 pandemic, when she heard the blast which sounded like the sound barrier being broken.

In this drone picture, the destroyed silo sits in rubble and debris after an explosion at the seaport of Beirut. Picture: AP Photo/Hussein Malla
In this drone picture, the destroyed silo sits in rubble and debris after an explosion at the seaport of Beirut. Picture: AP Photo/Hussein Malla

She was thrown backwards by the blast and her premises suffered extensive damage. All the windows were blown out, bookshelves were knocked down. 

“The whole place is in chaos.” 

Ms Fleming-Farrell said she, like many other residents of the city, did not realise the extent of the destruction until today. Usually when there are car bombs the damage is localised.

“You don’t understand the scale of it. This time the damage is not local. It’s half the city.” 

The Laois woman had a CT scan last night and she was fine, she said.

“There is not a door left, there’s not a pane of glass intact. Thank goodness we weren’t open, if we had been full of customers there could have been serious injuries. We’re very grateful there was no one here but us.” 

Ms Fleming-Farrell is hopeful that the business can reopen “for our sake, for the sake of our employees and for our customers, so we can get back to normal life.

“We’re in the middle of an economic crisis and a pandemic. There is very challenging time ahead.”

A Lebanese army helicopter seen through a damaged apartment drops water at the scene where an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut. Picture: AP Photo/Hussein Malla
A Lebanese army helicopter seen through a damaged apartment drops water at the scene where an explosion hit the seaport of Beirut. Picture: AP Photo/Hussein Malla

Authorities in Beirut said at least 100 people were killed and 3,000 wounded, with the toll likely to rise as more bodies were pulled from the rubble.

In a televised speech, Lebanon’s prime minister Hassan Diab appealed to all countries and friends of Lebanon to extend help to the small nation, saying: “We are witnessing a real catastrophe.” He reiterated his pledge that those responsible for the massive explosion at Beirut’s port will pay the price, without commenting on the cause.

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

The blast struck with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany’s geosciences centre GFZ, and was heard and felt as far away as Cyprus more than 180 miles across the Mediterranean.

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