Rebuilding in Beirut: How local members are recovering, helping others after deadly explosion

President Maroun Akiki was sitting at his desk near the large front windows of his off-road vehicle store in Beirut, Lebanon, when an explosion occurred on the evening of Aug. 4, 2020. 

The deadly ammonium blast rocked the Port of Beirut and devastated the capital, ultimately killing at least 200 people and leaving thousands injured.

Inside Beirut Lebanon District President Akiki’s store, debri dropped all around him. His store was heavily damaged. But he was unharmed. 

Earlier that day, his wife, Sister Roula Akiki, suffered with a migraine. She felt prompted to wait about 10 minutes longer than usual to pick up her husband. When the explosion happened, she was on a highway, with her windows rolled down, and the impact of the blast pushed her car across two lanes. She recovered and continued on, unharmed. 

It took 21 days of near constant work to put the showroom at President Akiki’s store back into working order. Thankfully, he didn’t miss a paycheck. 

Beirut District President Maroun Akiki surveys the damage to the shop that he manages after the explosion on Aug. 4, 2020.
Beirut District President Maroun Akiki surveys the damage to the shop that he manages after the explosion on Aug. 4, 2020. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“As I have contemplated the events, I have felt a full range of emotions,” Sister Akiki said. “But we are blessed. We have stored food in our home, as our Church has taught us to do, and that helps.”

The Akiki’s experience is one of many in a recent article by the Church’s Middle East Newsroom highlighting local Latter-day Saints and the community rebuilding their lives after the explosion.

No Latter-day Saints were injured during the explosion, and though the high-rise building that houses the Beirut Branch was damaged, the Church’s meeting rooms were untouched.

The Church’s humanitarian arm, Latter-day Saint Charities, has donated nearly $2 million in aid for the country and is working with local partners to supply food and medicine.

In one project with MedGlobal, much-needed medicines are being distributed to clinics in the Beirut area. A video from MedGlobal shows the human impact of the donation, as medical providers still struggle to keep up with demand. Another part of this project involves training healthcare workers how to identify those with mental health needs and refer them for treatment.

Latter-day Saint Charities is funding a number of other projects in Lebanon, including:

  • Project HOPE partnered with the Rene Moawad Foundation to provide emergency health supplies, including 165 pallets of medications, syringes, bandages, gauze and N95 masks.
  • International Medical Corps delivered medical supplies to five health centers in Beirut. The donation from Latter-day Saint Charities also funded 3,000 hygiene and sanitization kits for patrons who come to the centers.
  • Rahma Worldwide handed out food baskets and hygiene kits to 5,000 families affected by the explosion.
  • Convoy of Hope is assisting displaced families and elderly with food, water and medical support. The Latter-day Saint Charities donation also supports debris removal and home cleanup in Beirut.
  • The Adventist Development and Relief Agency is managing a food voucher system to help families and local businesses get up and running again.
  • Son of Man, a charity run by Christian nun Mother Agnes, sponsors a central food kitchen for homeless people and others in need of hot meals.

Latter-day Saint Charities Manager Boyce Fitzgerald said, “We are grateful for the generous donations to Latter-day Saint Charities that make it possible for us to help those in need. Our partners have made deliveries of essential supplies to thousands of people, and this work will continue.”

One of the homes destroyed by the explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 4, 2020.
One of the homes destroyed by the explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, on Aug. 4, 2020. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Karim Assouad, former district president, was talking with his mother and brother shortly before the explosion. The three were sitting in front of the apartment window that would soon be shattered, but they decided to leave. 

Assouad walked down to the parking lot a few minutes later. When the explosion struck, glass fell around him, and he heard the screams of some children playing nearby. But not one of them was injured, nor was Assouad.

“We have to take [it] one day at a time,” he told Newsroom. “Everything is uncertain, unstable. But we know how to survive here in Lebanon.”

Unity seems to have prevailed among neighbors of all religions.

In a mountain city almost 10 miles from the port, Lina, a Muslim woman, said the windows in her balcony were blown out during the explosion. However, she felt blessed to have received only minor damage. Now she gives daily help to a woman who lost her home.

Ahmud, a young Syrian man living in Beirut, was caring for a friend’s apartment near the port. During the explosion, he stepped from the shower into a small room — the only room in the apartment that was not damaged. Once his panic abated, he worked his way through the building to find injured people he could aid.