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'We're in a state of disbelief': How Cleveland's Lebanese community is helping a devastated Beirut

APTOPIX Lebanon Explosion
Posted at 2:52 PM, Aug 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-09 19:53:56-04

CLEVELAND — The massive explosion that shook Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut on Tuesday is still being felt oceans away in the hearts of the Lebanese Americans who call Northeast Ohio home. For Pierre Bejjani, the news felt crippling, it hasn’t gone away, and it probably won’t for some time.

“It’s had a really big effect on me and a lot of people in our community. It’s a tragedy. I’m still trying to absorb the reality of it all. It’s a state of disbelief and uncertainty,” said Bejjani, president of the Cleveland American Middle East Organization (CAMEO) and chairman of the American Lebanese Community Council of Northern Ohio. “We [the community] are trying to wrap our head around it, and it just leaves you with a numb feeling.”

As of Friday, the explosion has killed more than 150 people, injured more than 5,000 people and left at least 300,000 people homeless after it leveled parts of the capital.

Bejjani has family in Beirut who had their homes destroyed in a matter of seconds.

"There's just so much concern for Lebanon right now. Thank God we haven't heard from anyone locally who has had family members die in this tragedy," he said.

Lebanon
A Lebanese woman shows pictures of her family members at her house bedroom which damaged by Tuesday's explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. Rescue teams were still searching the rubble of Beirut's port for bodies on Friday, nearly three days after a massive explosion sent a wave of destruction through Lebanon's capital.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Because he and many others can’t be there physically to embrace family members with a familiar hug and affection, he decided what he could do was to organize local relief efforts that will directly help those who need it most in a city now in ruins.

“We have received calls from people whose immediate family members are injured or their homes and businesses are destroyed. We ourselves ask what can we do? This is what we can do. We are pulling in all our resources to help,” Bejjani said.

Bejjani is coordinating a fundraiser through the American Lebanese Community Council (ALCC), which will have an entirely new fund designated solely to help the Lebanese Red Cross, a nonprofit that helps provide medical and disaster relief to families displaced by events such as the Beirut blast.

Lebanese Red Cross was chosen as the direct recipient of the fundraiser because it’s the most trusted organization, locally and internationally, for putting funds in the right places, something Bejjani said is important now more than ever as the distrust in public officials in Lebanon continues to grow. All donations sent to ALCC will be 100% given to the Red Cross in Lebanon.

Lebanon Explosion
A man walks past a damaged building at a neighborhood near the scene of Tuesday's explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. Rescue teams were still searching the rubble of Beirut's port for bodies on Friday, nearly three days after a massive explosion sent a wave of destruction through Lebanon's capital. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

In addition to the fundraiser, Bejjani is working with local hospitals that can provide medical supplies to Beirut hospitals, several of which had to shut down due to extensive damage.

The U.S. Embassy in Beirut said Friday that the United States has pledged more than $17 million in initial disaster aid for Lebanon, including food, medical supplies and financial assistance for the Lebanese Red Cross, the Washington Post reported.

Bejjani has felt the love in Cleveland as everyone from strangers, neighbors, organizations and elected leaders have reached out asking him how they can help.

“My heart has been so touched by a lot of people here,” he said. "Many have said, ‘I see the pictures on television’ and to that I say, 'What you see on TV, this isn’t the tip of the iceberg.' You go outside in Beirut and there is barely one structure still standing. It’s all a tragedy. Structures that have survived the Ottoman Empire and the Civil War are completely devastated.”

Bejjani said those who would like to donate to the Lebanese Red Cross can do so through the American Lebanese Council's website where a link will be created in the coming days. You can also donate to the Lebanese Red Cross here.

A vigil for those lost in the explosion will be held on Saturday at noon at the Lebanese Cultural Garden located on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

RELATED: United States delivers humanitarian aid to Beirut after deadly port explosion