For the seven years that Fred Kamau has worked as a security officer at a school in Beirut, Lebanon, his days have been slow and uneventful.
An occasional case of indiscipline from some of the students was the most he had to handle on a typical day.
But on Tuesday, everything changed. There was a huge explosion a few kilometres from where he was seated. He describes the blast as “heart-stopping and something that you can never forget.”
When he heard the first explosion, he thought it was a bomb. It was followed by shattering blasts and buildings collapsing. He refers to it as something that you would only see in action movies.
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“Pieces of glasses in the air — was raining shards of glass. There was a huge blast. So much running…so much screaming…and I was sandwiched between two walls that were shaking…I said, God, do not let me die in a foreign land far from home,” he says.
He instinctively fell on the ground, desperately trying to call his wife in Nairobi.
“I was thinking…this is it…this is the end of me…” he says.
He escaped with minor injuries, but he says he has not slept since the incident.
Video images that were circulating on social media told of a horror story where parents ran barefoot holding their children. Others held each other as walls caved in. Social media platforms had photos of bodies of children in the dust, women wailing and men breaking down as they confronted the devastation that has left close to 100 dead and 4,000 injured.
A number of Kenyans are among the injured in the blast that hit Beiruit on Tuesday evening.
Kenya’s Ambassador to Kuwait, Halima Mohamud, said three were hospitalised but are in stable condition.
“All the Kenyans are fine. I talked to them,” she said, adding that they were taken to hospital, got medication and are getting well. She urged Kenyans with relatives in Beirut to be calm, saying they have not recorded any serious case.
Kenya’s Honorary Consul in Lebanon said they have a case of an undocumented Kenyan who was at the scene and sustained injuries. She is admitted to hospital and they could only identify her as “Lulu”. “She is illegally working outside without insurance cover. We are following up her case,” said the consul.
The blast is reported to have been caused by an explosion inside a site that had highly explosive materials. Beirut officials linked the blast to about 2,750 tonnes of confiscated ammonium nitrate that had been in a warehouse at the port for the last six years.
Rescuers are still digging through the rabbles to save several people who are feared to be trapped, with the number of death expected to get higher.
Debris in the air
Zawadi Asia, who works as a domestic help in one of the homes near the airport says it felt as if the world was falling apart. That the blast was so intense, and even hours after the explosion, there was still debris in the air.
She sprained her ankle while running to hide but says she is getting better.
Mary Muriithi says watching the impact of a disaster in a foreign country awakens the desire to go back home. The blood, the tears, and the gloom that has engulfed the country as Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun declared Wednesday a national day of mourning has made them plan to push a petition for repatriation. “There are people who lost jobs. People are desperate. Some are homeless,” she says.
The blast coincides with the dates that the government was supposed to send representatives to Lebanon to investigate alleged mistreatment and sexual assault of Kenyans who seek help at the consul in Beirut.
Ambassador Halima had committed to travelling to Lebanon in the first week of August to investigate the cases.
Several world leaders, among them President Uhuru Kenyatta, sent messages of condolence to the Lebanese republic moments after the blast.
In a statement from State House, President Kenyatta expressed Kenya’s sympathy for the Lebanese people and wished them God’s comfort as they come to terms with the regrettable destruction of their city.