ASCE members in Lebanon have helped lead the recovery effort in the aftermath of an explosion that shook the Port of Beirut at 6:08 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 4, in the center of the densely populated capital.
The destruction extended across a four-mile radius, with casualties reported at 220 dead, 6,000 injured and 300,000 left homeless.
“What motivated all of us is passion for our beloved country of Lebanon and the sense of serving we acquired when we lived abroad,” said ASCE Lebanon Section President Antoine “Tony” Gergess, P.E., F.ASCE, a professor at the University of Balamand.
Members of the ASCE Lebanon Section, as well as local ASCE student members, volunteered to assess damage. A team headed by Section President-Elect Michel Bouchedid, A.M.ASCE, performed visual inspections of 66 lots, which included residential, commercial and office buildings, with the objective of checking the structural integrity and safety of the skeleton structure. Structures ranged from high-rise and multistory buildings to historical houses constructed two centuries ago.
The team comprised ASCE members skilled in structural assessment and experts in electromechanical systems and exterior and interior architecture. Damage caused by the pressure wave that the blast generated included the destruction of façade walls, glass, furniture, electrical, sanitary and water systems, as well as complete building collapse in many cases.
“In hard times like this – the worst I have ever seen, although I survived the civil war in Lebanon and Hurricane Andrew in Miami – engineers must share not only their skill and knowledge but also provide support and relief to the people who were devastated,” Gergess said. “Here I salute the young volunteers, specifically university students, taking immediate action to help those in need without fear.”
Volunteers from student chapters – including Lebanese American University, the American University of Beirut and Beirut Arab University, among others – helped to clean debris and provided assistance to residents. The ASCE AUB Student Chapter, led by its advisor Dr. Georges Saad, is also helping to renovate one of the ancient schools, Collège des Freres du Sacré Coeur, which was severely affected by the explosion.
Additionally, Region 10 Director Elias Sayah is working with the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik to make a donation to help repair two houses damaged by the explosion. The ASCE Student Chapter at the university is assisting with the repairs.
Sayah also has volunteered to pay the tuition of two students affected by the explosion.
The overall reconstruction process will be further complicated by the fact that the obliterated Port of Beirut previously accommodated 80 percent of the country’s imports and exports. But Gergess remains steadfast.
“Beirut will always rise, and knowing the sheer will of the Lebanese people, we are more optimistic and determined than ever,” Gergess said. “I am not sure the country is on the path yet toward recovery, but by combining efforts, Beirut will heal, and Lebanon will not fall.”
Learn more about how you can donate to Saint Joseph University of Beirut’s disaster relief efforts.