'They're killing us slowly': Reporting the human cost of the Beirut blast

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Emma Murphy

"This is Beirut, we go down, we come up and then we go down again."

The words of a father and husband, whose wife is in hospital with spinal injuries suffered in the explosion nine days ago, as he brings wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of rubble from his destroyed home into the devastated streets.

Walking in the alleyways of Gemmazyeh and Mar Mikhael, the residential area densely populated near the port, we haven't seen obvious grief - more a sadness that Beirut is used to, and a rebuilding job the people here have encountered countless times.

For people here, destruction is simply a way of life.

Security, now, around the port of Beirut is very tight, to reach the entrance we have to show our ID cards at several army checkpoints. 

"Ground zero" is now a closed and secure area, and very few teams have been granted access while the world watches from afar.

The blast in the Lebanese capital of Beirut devastated large parts of the city. Credit: ITV News

Our ITV News team followed a French search and rescue team working to recover bodies.

As we weaved our way through checkpoints and eventually through the gates of the port, the destruction was incomprehensible.

Every single thing that was there before the blast, is now in pieces. From food packaging and clothes, to articulated lorries, shipping containers, warehouses and multi-story buildings - and everything in between.

The now iconic grain silo dominates the skyline, it is the only thing in the port left standing, albeit partially. 

Each move of a digger scraping up the rubble beneath the silo adds to the risk of further collapse, grains are draining from the huge storage towers that were the lifeline of the people of Beirut, now the very thing that kept them alive is a constant reminder of death. 

Every few minutes, the digging would stop and the engines on the lorries there to take away the rubble would be cut. The silence meant that the search teams have detected something - a piece of torn clothing, a ping from a sonar monitor, or even a smell.

Producer Nathan Lee (left) and correspondent Emma Murphy (right) are in Beirut covering the explosion and its fallout.

Highly-trained search dogs comb the area and a bark indicates a point of interest. The dogs search in water too.

Hangar 12, where the fire started, was one of dozens of warehouses located next to the grain silo.

We stood watching search and rescue divers dive into where the hangars once stood - now a water-filled crater the depth of the Statue of Liberty - such was the devastation of the blast.

As Emma Murphy, our correspondent who was here in Beirut less than 24 hours after the blast, was recording a piece to camera, the familiar sound of silence rippled through the port.

This time, it wasn't the prospect of a grim discovery that cut the engines on the diggers.

Emma Murphy questions Prime Minister Hassan Diab at the blast site. Credit: ITV News

A motorcade of blacked out people carriers arrived at the blast site and dozens of security guards exited the vehicles carrying machine guns across their chest.

They formed a human circle around the man in the middle of not only the security guards, but a scandal that has cost hundreds of lives this past week - and thousands more during the past three decades.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab arrived on Saturday morning, four days after the explosion.

In this time he had made one televised speech, but took no questions from any journalists and had not visited the devastated residential areas near the port, where 300,000 people were displaced from their homes. This has only fuelled the anger towards the political leaders in this country.

"Why are you here in a closed area and not meeting the people who want to speak to politicians in this country?" Emma Murphy asked - the Prime Minister wasn't expecting any media to be at ground zero.

"Are you going to go into the streets today? This weekend? Are you afraid of people's fury?"

Hassan Diab said he didn't know when he'd go onto the streets and meet his people, he wasn't afraid of their fury, and passed the blame of anger onto the decades of corruption that preceded the explosion.

Two days later, Prime Minister Diab resigned, following two nights of violent protests on the streets of Beirut.

A resignation will not dilute people's anger here.

I spoke to Shad Rizik, a call centre worker who was working in direct sight of the silo tower. He was recording the fire before the explosion and thought he was going to die.

He lives, but his scars will be a permanent reminder of what this government and political leaders did to him.

Blast victim Shad Rizik Credit: ITV News

"This video is my immigration letter to the Prime Minister of Canada. I can't live here anymore. They're killing us slowly."

And his story is not unique, people are tired of the circle of rebuilding their lives here.

The Beirut Fire Brigade has been ripped apart, structurally, but more importantly emotionally. Ten firefighters lost their lives trying to save their city. The brigade is still searching to return the bodies of their friends.

Lieutenant Ali Najem showed us what is left of the Fire Department and told us the last journey his colleagues would take.

He took us to Sahar Faris' car that she drove into work that day still parked in the garage, with bricks on the roof and windows smashed from the impact of the blast.

Upstairs, he showed us where the firefighters were relaxing before the call came, laughing and joking together on the beds where they slept, before they rushed downstairs into their vehicles to go to the port.

"We are a family. We laugh together, we joke together, we sleep next to each other. And now we die together."

Ali is angry that the chemicals in the port were not reported to him. He says there is no way they would have sent an initial team of ten firefighters if he knew what was in there. 

The fire station was preparing to welcome home one of their own. Rami Kaaki was one of the first firefighters on scene, rushing from the building into the unknown.

The traffic on the main highway outside of the station was stopped for the coffin to be carried into the entrance of the station, with every firefighter in Beirut carrying the coffin aloft to a sound of fireworks and sirens.

I tweeted a video of the service, and firefighters around the world got in touch to tell us that they are all part of a firefighting family.

The mother of Rami told us that the government who did this "are all dogs". Rami leaves behind a wife and 4-year-old child.

The anger is palpable here, protesters in the streets are smashing windows that are already smashed. Such is the strength of feeling towards the politicians, who they feel are responsible for the deaths of their friends and family.

A court of law may, in time, find the people responsible for this and maybe some justice will be served. 

But for a country that has had decades of corruption at a cost of thousands of lives, whatever justice may come is too late and too little for the people whose lives have been ruined over and over again.