Ghaneem Faddoul and his family visited Beirut's port just hours before the massive explosion which destroyed it.
“Good morning from the tormented Beirut, the saddest Beirut. What can I say, Beirut now as we speak is in a state of disaster, it’s destroyed."
These were the first sentences uttered by Lebanese-Australian man Ghaneem Faddoul when he spoke with SBS Arabic24 on Wednesday, just hours after a massive blast ripped through Beirut’s port.
Mr Faddoul says his family “miraculously escaped death” on the day of the explosion, which has so far claimed 135 lives, including one Australian, with thousands more injured.
“We were at the blast location at around 4:30pm, we passed by the area to buy a few things and we stayed there until 6pm. When it happened, we were one kilometre away,” he said.
“If we were chosen to be among the affected people, God knows what would have happened to us, thank God.”
The blast, which is believed to have been triggered when a fire ignited 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertiliser, was heard as far as Cyprus, some 240 kilometres away.
Mr Faddoul, his wife and their three children, who are all under the age of 10, moved back to Lebanon in 2018.
He said he travels back and forth from Australia frequently, and arrived back in Lebanon, from Melbourne, three weeks ago.
He believes it is fate that he is with his family during Lebanon’s “tenderest days”, and that a "miracle" protected his family when the blast occurred.
“We were in Awkar when the explosion happened. The building started shaking. I said it must be an earthquake I ran to my wife to ask her if she felt it too, one minute later and we could see the explosion and feel it.
“We live next to the American Embassy, we thought maybe something happened there. In any area in Lebanon and no matter how far people lived from it they could feel it.
"I called my brother, he lives in a village in the mountains and he said he thought something happened in the village.
“In every area in Lebanon the explosion was felt and heard, that’s how strong it was. It’s unbelievable. I can’t express or describe our feelings, the whole family is traumatised. We are all in shock. How can they leave such substances in an area like this?"
Mr Faddoul and his wife decided to make the switch from Australia to Lebanon so their children can be closer to their culture. He said they are now considering a move back to Australia.
“We initially wanted our kids to grasp Lebanon’s culture and traditions and receive some of Lebanon’s education for the sake of our love for Lebanon.
“As time was passing by, the situation here got tougher and tougher, how much more of the worsening condition can we take in Lebanon. We still don’t know if we are going back to Australia or not.”
Mr Faddoul plans to contact the Australian Embassy in Lebanon to notify staff that his family is OK and to offer assistance to other Australians in the country.
The federal government confirmed that the embassy was damaged by the explosion, and some staff members were injured.
Australia will direct $2 million in humanitarian support to Lebanon to help with the recovery.
The funding will consist of $1 million each to aid partners, the World Food Programme, and the Red Cross, to help to ensure food, medical care and essential items are provided to those affected.