Destruction. Obliteration. Lives irrevocably altered. From huge chunks of concrete to tiny shards of glass, Lebanon is trying to fathom how it can rebuild its capital and repair the countless lives impacted by this week’s blast which killed at least 158 people and injured more than 6,000, according to the latest figures released by its National News Agency.
Yet for Lebanese basketballer Fadi El Khatib, who is regarded as one of the biggest names in Asian basketball, “the footage and pictures that you see on the media are nothing compared to what the situation is, what the reality is.”
Nicknamed the “Lebanese Tiger,” El Khatib led Lebanon to multiple appearances in the FIBA World Championships. He won four FIBA Asia Champions Cups for Lebanese clubs Sagesse and Al-Riyadi. He was in Dubai on business on the day of the blast, but his wife and four children were in Beirut.
“It’s doomed. It’s ruined. It’s damaged. It’s broken. Every single house in Beirut,” the 41-year-old El Khatib told CNN Sport in a tearful interview from Beirut.
“Everything we’ve built … It’s ruined within 30 seconds. You have no idea the damage that’s happened to Beirut. Buildings will not stand in a week from now, because it’s damaged, totally broken, the structure is down.
‘The damage is really bigger than what people expect’
The powerful blast has been linked to a massive shipment of ammonium nitrate that authorities say was stored in the port of Beirut without safety precautions for years, – despite warnings by local officials.
El Khatib is just one of the many Lebanese now trying to pick up the pieces of his life.
He owns a sports complex in Beirut – which he said has been “ruined” by the explosion – as well as his house and a restaurant.
He estimates that the damage to his property could cost him almost “$600,000-700,000” to rebuild. But right now given what he’s witnessed over the last few days, money is the least of El Khatib’s worries.
“The damage is really bigger than what people expect. It’s bigger than Lebanon,” the 13-time Lebanon basketball title winner said.
“We are affected with not only our businesses, with the lives that we lost, with our friends that we lost. I lost my friend in front of his kid’s eyes. We’ve lost many Lebanese people that believe in Lebanon. They believe in a better tomorrow.”
‘We want to work for a better Lebanon’
Newly released documents suggest multiple government agencies in Lebanon were informed about the ammonium nitrate stored at the port, including the Ministry of Justice.
The information adds to a growing body of evidence, including emails and public court documents, that officials had been notified about a shipment of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate – described by one Russian analyst as a “floating bomb” – tied to Tuesday’s catastrophic explosion in the seaside capital.
After the explosion, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab said it was “unacceptable” that a shipment of an estimated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored in a warehouse for six years.
However, documents obtained by CNN show that members of the Lebanese government and judiciary were apprised of vast quantities of the dangerous material being stored there – and may have failed to safeguard it.
CNN has reached out to Lebanese Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Transportation and Beirut Port for comment but has received no response.
El Khatib says he was once nominated for the Minister of Sport role in Lebanon but refused the position because he didn’t want to “work with people that are corrupted.” CNN was unable to verify his nomination.
And he has called on the politicians of the country to do more to represent the people of the country better.
“I’ve posted stories on my social media now saying that: ‘You destroyed us. You made us poor. You made us live without electricity.’ We’re in 2020. And we still have no electricity. We still have no water. We still have no business.”
In a recent Instagram post, El Khatib said Lebanese “people need moral support, but mostly significant actions. May God help all those whose life will never be the same after this day.”