tv Witness LINKTV March 27, 2022 6:00pm-6:31pm PDT
adam harvey: these were the shocking moments when a catastrophic blast tore through the heart of lebanon's capital, beirut. the cause: incompetence at the very top. talaortada: e whole political reigning elite, they allowed this to happen. whether it's by pure negligence or if it was evil, both cases, they are completely guilty. hala okeili: it's too much. it became normal to see people in this part of the world suffering. it's not okay. adam: in this city with so many connections to australia, the pain and grief are immense. sarah copland: i just remember i was just screaming,
"my baby. my baby. help my baby." omar jheir: everything is really destroyed. the fabric of our generation and our time is really destroyed. it's really gone. adam: as the a's middle east correspondent, beirut was my city too. the blast wrecked my neighborhood, injured my friends and stole hope from those who had already endured so much. tonight, on "four corners," the extraordinary story of how this disaster unfolded, told by the people who were there. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪
♪♪♪ adam: lebanon may be broken and broke, chaotic and forever on the verge of collapse. but for the two years, i lived in beirut with my family. it was a wonderful place. seductive and special. and it seemed safe, just like the ever-present reminders of the civil war. here's a beirut scene, the holiday inn. the snowcapped mountains at sunset and the children feeding the fish on the pier. the district shattered by the blast was our world. one café became an oasis for my family. omar: it's an old building with--
adam: it was owned by lebanese-australian omar jheir, who pushed on as the economy collapsed around him. omar: we are living day by day. if you ask me what's going to happen in the next week, we really don't know. ♪♪♪ alex: omar's wife, hala, ran a successful yoga studio just around the corner. it was her sanctuary. hala okeili: especially in our kind of region where we live in the middle east, it's really hard and like nothing is stable. things keep on changing a lot. and if you are not able to find some sort of grounding and the strength in your mind, then you'll be xanax very soon, on antidepressants like all the lebanese are, honestly. adam: while i was reporting there, lebanon's problemdrove
its people to the edge. the currency crashed. jobs vanished. inflation tore into savings, and the nation's leaders had no solution. the frustrations fueled mass protests and nightly confrontations. well, i've been thoroughly tear gassed. it's not a very pleasant feeling: burning throat, burning eyes. a lot of people here have it worse than me. i think this is the path of the next few months. male: allah akbar. [speaking foreign language] [speaking foreign language] adam: on the protest frontline, i met cherine el zein, a campaigner for political change, who told me lebanon's people had been abandoned by their leaders. cherine el zein: we don't have electricity.
we don't have money. the banks took all our money. the government took our money. we have no work. we have no water, no education, nothing. we have nothing. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ adam: it was about to get much worse. on august 4 this year, the mid-summer heat was relentless, and a covid lockdown loomed. dive instructor alaa saad and his friends prepared an afternoon escape. alaa saad: it's a meditation. this is why we love the hobby. it's a meditation when you're going down below. it provides you with all the kind of calmness that you need and all the purity that you need now.
adam: august 4 was the big day for a young beirut couple. [speaking foreign language] adam: amin shamle and his fiancé hanaa fanous were savoring the moment as they prepared for their wedding. they'd already put it off twice. finally, they had just enough savings to pay for the event. nothing was going to stop them. adam: at one of the city's biggest hospitals, australian-born doctor, stephanie yacoub was nearing the d of long shift. dr. stephanie yacoub: and it was just one of those days where you haven't had anything to eat or drink, and we kind of joke about it with the resints that we're about to order some maccas for everyone.
adam: a few blocks from the hospital, another australian, u.n worker sarah copland was at home with her husband craig and their two-year-old son, isaac. sarah copland: he loved making people laugh like if he ever did anything and then somebody laughed, he would do it over and over again just to watch them, watch them laugh. adam: smart and outgoing, fearless in the face of beirut's tough street cats, isaac was thriving in this diverse city, moving easily between three languages. craig oehlers: every time i came to pick him up, it was as if i was picking him up for the first time. he just was so happy, and he broke out into this smile, and he ran from me. and yeah, and it was just such a beautiful moment, and he jt had the most beautiful smile. adam: sarah was pregnant with her second child, and the family had been trying to get back to australia.
craig: and they shut the airport. sarah: they shuthe airports. we couldn't leave to get home. so, we had made several attempts to get back this year, and we were--we were so close. adam: on that august afternoon, just before isaac had dinner, he was in the lounge room with his mom listening to his favorite song, "baby shark." ♪ baby shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. ♪ ♪ baby shark, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo. ♪ sarah: he was funny. he used to change the names of the sharks to the names of his family members. so, his grandparents and as well as the kids in his nursery school, he would go through almost all the people he knew and make them sharks. adam: as the late afternoon sun finally softened, alaa saad and his friends began their dive. when they surfaced, they spotted a fire ashore.
alaa: as soon as we came up on the boat, one of my colleagues, he's my buddy, and he was like, "look behind you. the smoke is coming out big time from the port." adam: alaa saad called a friend who worked at the port. alaa: and we were asking, "what's happening over there?" they mentioned initially that there is some kind of a warehouse containing paints, that it was going on fire. adam: the nearest fire crew was based just a few hundred meters from the port. cctv captured the moment they were alerted to the emergency at 5:54 p.m.
from his penthouse terrace, agoston nemeth was filming as the fire took hold. agoston nemeth: i saw directly that there is a building in flames. i left my phone outside to film it. adam: nearby, lina khalil and her husband imad spent most afternoons on their balcony overlooking the port. on this day, from the 11th flview of the growing fire.eir adam: at 6:04 p.m., lina filmed the arrival of the fire truck and the ambulance. the crews came in blind to a locked warehouse.
adam: a paramedic on the ground with the brigade filmed the scene and captured the last footage of firefighter charbel karam. adam: what the firefighters did not know was that the warehouse held 2700 tons of ammonium nitrate. it had arrived in 2013 aboard a mozambique bound ship. the cargo was confiscated and moved to a dockside warehouse, hangar number 12, and abandoned. jad ghosn: we know that the army intelligence, since 2014,
made a report to the government that there are highly explosive material at the port. and then, in 2015, the head of the customs also had his own report on the matter. and then, in 2019, another security apparatus in lebanon also made such a claim on the port, and this report was sent to the government and to the presidency and to all of the security bodies in lebanon. adam: the government was repeatedly warned about the dangerous material. nothing was done. the final warning said the ammonium nitrate, "could cause the full destruction of the port." jad: this political system for years now has proven that has an incapacity of decision making because of the different
professions in lebanon and because of the veto power of all of the political parties in lebanon. so, once the administration, all the security apparatuses in lebanon do their job, if they do their job, it will reach the political level and then we have total inefficiency and incapacity to take any decision. tala: the whole political reigning elite that knew about these explosives in the port of beirut at the heart of the city is the main cause because they allowed this to happen whether it's by pure negligence or if it was evil, both cases, they are completely guilty. adam: agoston nemeth's footage captured the seething blaze. there were fireworks stored in the warehouse alongside the
ammonium nitrate, and a series of small explosions became a crescendo. then, the first big explosion. and finally, catastrophe. [explosion] agoston: i don't even know if i jumped or the wave pushed me, but what i noticed the next second is that--or i don't know how long time after, that i was on the floor and my knee was bleeding a bit. i didn't know what just happened. [speaking foreign language] alaa: so, we were seeing the smoke just having lights inside of it. we were hearing some kind of something boiling like it's like
the voice of the volcano when that's erupting. [speaking foreign language] [speaking foreign language] alaa: and i was thinking if i need to jump into the water to save myself from this wave coming towards us, and i couldn't even have the time to think twice about it when the wave striked us. [speaking foreign language]
adam: at saint george hospital, stephanie yacoub was eparing to deliver a baby. stepnie: so, i came in the delivery ward. there were two patients who had already delivered, and there were two patients who were still in labor. one of them, emmanuelle, who was just about to have her baby, she was very close. adam: the father-to-be filmed the scene. eddy khnaisser: i stood at the door. at that moment prior, i started taking a video shoot for a memory.
i stopped at the door, and i asked them, "is it possible that i can come in?" stephanie: we were pushing the patient into the delivery room, and as the video shows, you know, i was helping the midwife push her into the room, and that's the moment where the explosion happened. [speaking foreign language] adam: the blast ripped through the hospital. [explosion] adam: for lina khalil, who was still livestaming, fear became terror.
and we starting after the dust was a bit less, we starting seeing people walking with blood all over and screaming. people were screaming. [horn honking] adam: the blast wave tore through gemmayze, omar and hala's world. omar: frankly, we didn't know if it was a strike, it was a bomb. is anyone bombing us? i just walked downstairs barefoot, and i just felt i couldn't move my arm anymore, and i was covered in blood all over. i have stitches in my head, bleeding from glass and my legs.
[ringing] adam: their café was wrecked. hala: there were dead people on the streets; people were bleeding from everywhere. buildings has already collapsed. it was absolutely nuts. and i got a hold of him on the phone, and he tells me i'm alive, but i need a hospital. adam: the blast wave roared through beirut at more an 300 meters a second. its full force struck the apartment of the australn family, sarah copland, craig oehlers, and two-year-old isaac. craig: i'm thinking this must be an earthquake 'cause of the whole building is moving but, i'm not otherwise injured
at that point, and i flung open the door to see what was happening outside. sarah: all of a sudden, i saw glass flying towards us, and i hit the floor. i was knocked to the ground. and then, just when i got up, all i could hear was craig running and screaming. he'd come from the bathroom, and he was just screaming isaac's name. craig: there were live wires dangling from the ceiling. it was total devastation, and, of course, the first thing i thought of was, "oh, my god. where's isaac? where's sarah?"
and i was stepping over all this broken glass, but i didn't care. i didn't feel althe glass cutting into my feet. my thoughts were entirely about the safety and well-being of my wife and my son. and when i got to the living room, i found sarah leaning over isaac, who was still in his high chair, and she was screaming, "isaac's hurt. isaac's hurt." sarah: i could see that he was really, really injured. he'd gotten a big piece of glass in his chest. sorry. craig: do you want to stop? sarah: i'm okay. i'm okay. craig: the moments after that were a bit blurry, but i do remember seeing this massive shard of glass sticking out of isaac's chest, right over the area of his heart. that's when i knew this s really, really serious.
sarah: so, we were on the fourth floor, and i just ran down the stairs. there was glass everywhere. it was cutting into my feet. i didn't even realize at that time that i had a huge thing of glass sticking out of my face. just the adrenaline just kicked in because i didn't even feel that. and i just remember i was just screaming, "my baby. my baby. help my baby." and i think people--i mean, i just can't imagine what we looked like, you know, because i know we were covered from head to toe in blood, and he was crying, and i had glass out of my face. and i remember this woman, and she looked at us, and she screamed at the sight of us. and i just kept on running, and at some point, craig said, so, passed isaac over to craig, and i ran up." to charles malek. and you know, charles malek is quite a busy road, and i just remember i ran right into the middle of the road, just waving my arms until someone would stop. this gentleman stopped, and he--i just, i feel for him
because he had his two young girls in the car, and i just think of how traumatized they must have been to see us. the poor things were crying. and as craig said, we wanted to get to one of the closer hospitals but, but it was impossible. he was like going down the wrong side of the road, gunning it as fast as he could. it was, you know, and i was--any time we got to an intersection, i was screaming at everyone to get out of the way. and then we arrived at the hospital, and they took him immediately. and because i was injured, i was--i had a lot of cuts all over my body, they took me straight away to another part of the hospital, and that was the last time i saw isaac, was the doctors taking him one way and me the other. craig: so sarah and i agreed that i should stay with isaac, just so that isaac would know that his parents were still with him, that he wasn't alone. so that went on for a while.
and he was undergoing medical attention for at least what felt like an hour and a half, two hours, but the heart monitors had started flatlining much earlier than that. i'll tell you what. no parent should ever have to be in the same room with his child, who's on an operating table, and see the heart monitor flatline and hear all the alarms go off. and that flatlining sound and those sounds of the alarms going off is something that's going to stay with me for the rest of my life. ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ adam: right across the city, stories of life and death
played out. amid the devastation at saint george hospital, dr. stephanie yacoub focused on a mother and her unborn baby. stephanie: i just went back to basics, and at that moment, i was like, "i need to hear the baby's heartbeat." i needed to make sure that that patient and her baby were okay. we got the glass off of her and the bed that she was on. we were also able to drag her away from the window and towards an area that was a little bit more safe and not as exposed, just in case there was going to be more, you know, exposures to broken glass. adam: with caslties evywhere, dr. yacoub performed r on a nurse but couldn't save her, one of 21 deaths in the hospital. the doctor recorded a brief message for her worried family.
stephanie: i'm okay, and i'm fine. nothing is wrong with me at all, no bleeding or anything. eddy: they told us, "we're going to deliver no matter what." they told my wife, "you got to focus, and we need to go through this 'cause we can't go back. we have to deliver." stephanie: the sun was setting, and we had to deliver him with the use of our friend's flashlight from her phone. adam: baby george was born at 7:18 p.m. into the chaos of a failing state weakened by greed and self-interest and a lack of care for its people. ♪♪♪ adam: the blast was the awful culmination of that carelessness. [speaking foreign language]