On 4 August 2020, late in the afternoon, Zeina Noun was at the family’s restaurant in Mechmech, 60 kilometers northeast of Beirut. She was waiting for William, her youngest son, who was buying meat from a nearby village. Her husband Tony was taking a nap at home, and their daughter Nancy had just left work in Beirut and was driving home.

At 18:07, a double explosion shakes the capital. Nancy sees everything falling around her on the coastal road of Karantina. The roof of her car caves in above her. She calls William and screams to him about an explosion nearby. They hang up and both call their brother Joe, a firefighter in the Karantina brigade, but his mobile is off. They phone the brigade’s landline. No one answers.

Zeina hears customers talking about an explosion in Beirut. She checks on Nancy and tries to reach Joe before sending him a voice message on WhatsApp: “Where are you, Joto Habibi? Call me when you can”. She then calls Tony, waking him up, and tells him about the explosion and that Joe is out of reach. Minutes later, Tony arrives at the restaurant. William also drives back to the restaurant. On his phone, he sees scenes of an explosion at Beirut Port.

Relatives and friends gather at the restaurant. Everybody tries calling Joe. At around 19:00, Joe’s colleague answers his phone. He tells them the firefighters who escaped the blast are still searching for Joe and his colleagues.

William drives to Beirut with his friends. They arrive in the capital, park the car, and walk toward the brigade’s station. He finds it in ruins. He manages to get into a civil defense vehicle, which drives him inside the port. He finds the firefighters sitting on the ground crying amidst terrifying destruction.

He leaves the port and drives around looking for Joe in Beirut’s hospitals. Relatives and friends help in the search.

A few hours later, Tony receives, on his phone, a photo of three men trying to open the gate of a warehouse at the port. He recognizes his son Joe on the left. He calls William and tells him to come home.

Tony had seen footage of the city in ruins on TV and social media. When he received the photo, he knew his son had not survived the catastrophe.

Joe’s partial remains were found a few days later. He was buried on August 12.

On his 40th day memorial, his family received a call from staff in a hospital. They had found the rest of Joe’s remains. They were buried in another coffin.

Every time Joe went out to extinguish a fire, he sent a message to Zeina: “Mama, I am okay”. That day, he did not send her anything. He was last seen on WhatsApp at 17:03.

A minute of mourning for the victims of the Beirut Port explosion.

04 . 08 . 2020    18 : 08

04 . 08 . 2020 18 : 08