'I just feel helpless:' Montreal relatives react to Beirut explosion
MONTREAL -- From Montreal, Rand Jamaleddine watched with the rest of the world as blasts echoed through the city her parents were born and raised in.
"When I first saw the videos, I wasn't sure what was happening," she said. "I recognized the city and the port obviously, but I was just in disbelieve."
After some tense moments not knowing what had happened to her family in Lebanon, Jamaleddine was able to contact her relatives, who are all okay.
Jamaleddine's parents moved from Beirut during the civil war in the 1980s. The family visits Lebanon often.
Seeing the video footage and knowing how much the city will have to rebuild is very tough, she said.
"It's just completely devastating," she said. "I just feel helpless. It's a country that's already been through a lot. I'm completely heartbroken."
Caroline Codsi, a Montrealer who is president of Gouvernance au Feminin, was born and raised in Lebanon.
"The focus is on how are we going to get out of this unbelievable crisis," she said.
"We've never lived anything like this despite the civil war from 1975 to 1990, and all the crises that have been repeating themselves in the past 30 years, this is the biggest blow ever."
According to the 2016 census, 219,555 Canadians claimed Lebanese ancestry. Montreal has the largest Lebanese community in Canada.
Jameleddine's family in Beirut spoke about living in a swirl of dust with no power and massive numbers of missing people.
"I talked to my aunt this morning, and she is in complete shock," said Jamaleddine.
"I can tell she's been crying all night. I spoke to my cousin and she was telling me about the impact: she doesn't know who to check up on anymore. There are so many people that are affected."
In Montreal's tight-knit Lebanese community, almost everyone knows someone overseas who has been injured or killed in the tragedy, according to Lamia Charlebois, who runs a Facebook page for the community.
"We all have someone who is wounded, who is still not found, who is dead," said Charlebois, who had a friend who was killed and another who lost an eye in the blast.
"The community is extremely sad. There's anguish and despair," she said. "But at the same time we're mobilized, and we want to help every way we can."
LEBANESE COMMUNITIES ACROSS CANADA UNITE
Mohamad Moati of Vaughan, Ont., cited fundraising as one of the few ways to feel useful from the other side of the world.
Moati was on the phone with his siblings in Lebanon's capital when Tuesday's blast levelled part of the city and heard the boom and the panic that followed.
"There's a sense of mixed emotion, of guiltiness for being grateful that we're in a great country like Canada, and at the same time feeling very guilty that we can't be back home with family members and friends and actually help out with the disaster," he said.
Moati said he and others in the "Lebanese in Canada" Facebook group he founded are working to raise money in hopes they can make things a little easier for those in Lebanon.
"Everybody has been has been trying to help in their own way, whether it's supporting with words, or supporting financially, or sharing information that can help other people that are back home," he said.
Investigators in Lebanon began searching through the wreckage for clues to the cause of Tuesday's explosion, and the government ordered port officials put under house arrest amid speculation that negligence was to blame.
Though Lebanese emergency responders were still combing through the rubble in search of survivors and victims on Wednesday, some details about the extent of the damage are already known.
Ahmad Araji, president of the Lebanese Club of Ottawa, said he was still in shock a day after the incident and found it hard to put the magnitude of the tragedy into words.
"There's so little you can do from abroad," he said. "And the country has been going through a lot. This is the last thing the people needed right now, especially with the economic crisis, poverty peaking, the currency crash, COVID."
He said his first cousin, his wife and their young daughter live in downtown Beirut and were hit by glass that shattered during the explosion.
His group has started an online fundraiser that had raised thousands of dollars by early Wednesday afternoon for the Lebanese Red Cross and for hospitals.
CANADIAN LEADERS OFFER CONDOLENCES
In the aftermath of the explosion, many Canadian leaders offered their condolences to the people of Beirut and their families.
On Twitter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would offer assistance in any way it could.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault's government lowered the flag at the National Assembly to halfmast as a sign of mourning. MNA and National Assembly President Francois Paradis tweeted his condolences.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante also ordered the flags at City Hall be flown at halfmast as a sign of respect.Mohamad Moati of Vaughan, Ont., cited fundraising as one of the few ways to feel useful from the other side of the world.
Charlebois said many in the Lebanese community have been donating to the Lebanese Red Cross.
They have been comforted by the calls and messages of condolence from friends and strangers from across Canada, she said.
She urged the Canadian government to help by sending disaster response teams, environmental experts, and eventually building materials, "because the houses were blown up at a very big radius," she said.
Later on Thursday, the Canadian government committed to send up to $5 million to help with the relief effort.
--with files from The Associated Press