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Echoes of Lebanon’s civil war seen in aftermath of Beirut blast

Doctors without Borders head says hospitals now have handle on treating patients thanks to triage experience, calls for provisioning of food and shelter for the destitute

A woman is wheeled into a hospital following an explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. (Ibrahim Amro/AFP)
A woman is wheeled into a hospital following an explosion in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. (Ibrahim Amro/AFP)

PARIS, France — With some 300,000 people left homeless by the massive explosion in Beirut, and fears of food and medicine shortages, Doctors Without Borders on Thursday likened the humanitarian fallout to that of Lebanon’s civil war.

Doctors Without Borders (also known as Description
Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) president Mego Terzian told AFP that after the initial rush to treat the injured, the next priority would be to provide food and shelter for the destitute.

“Another priority will be taking care of people with chronic illnesses, those with cancer, HIV or respiratory diseases such as asthma, given the risk of an interruption of drug supplies,” he said.

Terzian said warehouses storing medicines and vaccines in the port of Beirut were damaged in Tuesday’s monster blast.

The provisional death toll stood at 137, but with dozens missing and 5,000 wounded the number of victims was expected to rise as rescue workers continued to comb through the rubble.

Three hospitals in the Achrafieh neighborhood of central Beirut, including one with 1,100 beds, were damaged in the blast.

“The dialysis center, which was the biggest in the country, was completely destroyed,” Terzian said.

Volunteers carrying brooms and other equipment arrive on Gouraud street in the Gemayzeh neighborhood of Beirut on August 6, 2020, to clear debris from the massive explosion that shook the Lebanese capital. (Anwar Amro/AFP)

But hospitals that were quickly overrun on Tuesday, with overflowing emergency rooms, had a handle on the situation by Wednesday with many injured transferred outside Beirut, he added.

“Lebanese healthcare workers, especially those with experience of the civil war, were able to triage the emergency rooms very quickly and prioritize those patients who had to go to the operating rooms,” he said.

A soldier walks at the site of the massive explosion at the port of Beirut, on August 6, 2020. (Thibault Camus/Pool/AFP)

Terzian said Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan were sending field hospitals, and attempts were being made to guarantee supplies of basic medicines such as antibiotics, painkillers and blood bags.

The blast sowed destruction like that caused by the country’s 1975-1990 civil war, leveling buildings several hundred meters (yards) away.

“We lived difficult and similar experiences during the Lebanese war,” Terzian said.

Bombings of gasoline warehouses near the port had yielded “similar scenes — the city was completely devastated, people were wandering the streets, wounded, desperate, without knowing where to go.”

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