Karen Fayad had the next eight hours mapped out from her Boston apartment—studying for her Northeastern master’s in engineering and public policy, working her part-time research job, and helping a charity—when a friend texted her at 11:15 a.m. on August 4 about the catastrophe in Beirut. Hey there just has been a huge explosion in Lebanon read the message, followed by a screenshot in Arabic. Fayad phoned her mother, who lives 15 minutes by car from the 2,750 tons of volatile ammonium nitrate that had been stored for six years, inexplicably, at the Port of Beirut. “How did you know?” her mother said. The explosion was 10 minutes old. Her apartment in the mountain village of Roumieh was littered with broken glass and other destruction.
Though at least 11 of Fayad’s friends in Beirut have been left homeless, she is grateful that no relatives or friends are among the 171 people known to have died in the explosion, or the additional thousands who are missing. Friends have told her that the initial blast enabled people to seek cover before the larger second detonation, which came after 6 p.m. local time, when thousands of daytime workers had already left their jobs at the port. The explosion, which left a crater almost 50 yards deep and created tremors 150 miles away on the island of Cyprus, has fragmented the misery that Lebanon was already enduring.
“There has been a famine, a huge economic crisis, and now the worst humanitarian disaster that has made over 300,000 people homeless,” says Fayad, a 2019 Northeastern graduate in industrial engineering. “This is why we are trying to raise money.”