'Akala ko mamatay na ako': OFWs recount horror of Beirut explosions

John Gabriel Agcaoili, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 05 2020 04:47 AM | Updated as of Aug 05 2020 11:25 PM

MANILA (2nd UPDATE)- Filipina domestic worker Mary Jane Muniño, 30, went shopping at a mall in the Achrafieh district in Beirut on Tuesday after sending her family money, when what seemed like two earthquakes violently shook the building, prompting her and others to seek safety.

Muniño dropped to the ground and stayed still for 5 minutes inside a store before looking up and seeing the ABC mall shrouded in darkness and dust as other shoppers ran for their lives, fearing another tremor will hit the area.

It turned out they weren't temblors but explosions which rocked the nearby port district of Beirut around 6 p.m. local time, killing at least 73 people and wounding thousands of others. The second blast spewed an enormous orange fireball into the sky, immediately followed by a tornado-like shockwave, shattering the Lebanese capital.

"Ang nasa isip ko lang ng panahon na iyun, kailangan kong makalabas sa mall. Takbo ako ng takbo makahanap ng exit," Muniño told ABS-CBN News.

"Sabi ko, 'Diyos ko kailangan kong makalabas dito.'"

Muniño, who has worked in Beirut for 7 years now, recalled that she fell to the floor due to shattered glass on the ground but ignored her wounds just to leave the mall.

"Namalayan ko na lang dumudugo na pala kamay ko, kaunti lang naman, at tuhod ko," the Antique native said. She received first aid as her injuries weren't serious.

"Akala ko mamatay na ako sa loob ng building."

When she went home, Muniño saw her windows were blown out and furniture wrecked as though a bull rampaged through her residence. But she was just thankful as her cousin who lives with her was safe, only sustaining minor wounds.

"Ang kasama ko sa bahay andito lang sa bahay. Tinawagan ko siya kung kamusta siya. Sa sobrang takot iyak ng iyak pero salamat safe siya," Muniño said.

 

Analiza Sebastian, 21, was waiting for her employer when she, along with other tenants in her building in Ashrafieh felt the blasts. Her residential unit is at least 5 minutes away from the port area.

"Sobrang lakas po ng impak, nagtalsikan nga po lahat ng salamin sa bahay ng amo ko," she said. "Tapos po ang lakas ng galaw ng building namin."

Sebastian said that some residents in the building, which also houses other OFWs, were slightly injured due to broken glass after the explosions shattered almost every window in Ashrafieh.

"Lahat po sira. Sobrang takot po lahat lalo na 'yung mga kababayan natin dito. Madami din po kasing Pinay dito sa building," she said.

 

Gheilai Zhasa Abejuela, who lives at least 5 blocks from the port area, was at a loss for words when she was asked to describe the strength of the explosions, even when she saw it from the veranda of her residence.

"Hindi ko po ma-explain 'yung lakas kasi po bigla lang siya. Lahat ng dingding namin na glass bumagsak lahat," said Abejuela, also a domestic worker from Quezon province.

Abejuela, who also lives in her employer's residential unit, said there was no one who was hurt in their building but all of them were scared for their own safety.

"Nakakatakot po 'yung tunog."

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said 2 Filipinos died from the incident while 8 were injured. Eleven seafarers and a household service worker also went missing.

The Philippine Embassy in Lebanon urged all Filipinos in the Middle Eastern country to contact it for any requests of assistance. The embassy can be reached at 03859430; 70858086; 81334836; 71474416; and 70681060.

The cause of the explosions was not immediately known but a top official, General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, said confiscated explosive materials had been stored at the city's port.

"It appears that there is a warehouse containing material that was confiscated years ago, and it appears that it was highly explosive material," he said.

The explosions hit a country already reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades which has left nearly half of the population in poverty, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

Lebanon's economy has collapsed in recent months, with the local currency plummeting, businesses closing en masse and poverty soaring at the same alarming rate as unemployment.

The explosions also came three days before a UN tribunal's verdict on the murder of former Lebanese premier Rafic Hariri, killed in a huge 2005 truck bomb attack.

Tensions have also been high with neighboring Israel after Israel said it thwarted an infiltration attempt by up to five Hezbollah gunmen, a claim denied by the Iran-backed group.--With a report from Agence France-Presse