The photo of a Lebanese nurse carrying three new-born babies to safety from a badly damaged hospital became the face of the catastrophic Beirut blast. Today we hear the story behind the photo from the nurse, Pamela Zaynoun and the photographer, Bilal Jawish, who captured the moment.
Pamela Zaynoun, 26, thought she was going to die when she was covered with metal poles and a mountain of debris after last week’s Beirut blast. Yet, something gave her strength and courage to try to move out, she says, to emerge from the destruction after escaping death, and see whether the babies she was caring for were still alive.
She helped rescue all the babies in the ward and carried three of them all the way until she found another safe hospital.
Ms Zaynoun – a nurse at the Al Roum hospital – was in the maternity ward at the time of the blast on 4 August and was knocked unconscious because of the impact.
As soon as she emerged from under the rubble, she ran to the intensive care unit to check on the babies and carried three infants to safety.
"At least I could do something for these children and for the hospital I work in. I don’t consider myself a hero, I just did my job and what I was sworn to do when I graduated and started working my job,” she told SBS Arabic 24.
Carrying three new-born babies, she walked to two nearby hospitals, but due to being overcrowded with injured people, she had to look for another safe place.
She was walking towards Abu Joudeh hospital – seven kilometres from Al Roum – when she met gynaecologist Dr Nadim Hajar, who lent her a hand and they managed to get the infants to safety and secured a nursery for them.
“The children were in very good condition when we got to Abu Joudeh Hospital, thanks to the people who helped me on the road and gave me their clothes to wrap around the children to keep them warm,” she says.
Ms Zaynoun later met the parents of the infants she helped save.
“One of the mothers said to me ‘I don’t know how I can reward you for what you did for my child.’
“The room was filled with joy and I felt at peace.”
'The most powerful image'
While the horrific images of the blast that killed over 200 people flooded the internet, Pamela Zaynoun’s picture carrying the three infants has been called the face of the catastrophic disaster.
The Lebanese photographer, Bilal Jawish, who took Ms Zaynoun’s photo says this is “the most powerful image” he has taken during his career.
"This photo was one of 140 pictures I took [that day]. This is a very small number, but I had to stop to extend a helping hand to the victims.
"It’s enough. Pamela's image summarised the whole event."
Mr Jawish says taking pictures full of blood and people's miseries is not a joyful job. However, the photos that he took documented the reality that Lebanon is experiencing now.
“Pamela is a hero. She wasn't waiting for me to take this picture to be claimed as one.”
"I took her picture in one second. she did not even see me there in the first place. I did not know her before, but these circumstances have led me to meet her and get to know the beautiful person she is.”
The photographer describes the moment he took the photo.
"It felt as if she was controlled by something; as if a divine power was controlling her.”
“When a person is at the age of the three children that Pamela was carrying, they have no power or control over anything. Angels protect them or send someone to protect them from harm.”
"God controlled Pamela to move to help and save these three children."
Ms Zaynoun thanks Mr Jawish for taking this photo.
“It documents a beautiful, powerful memory so close to my heart.”
You can listen to Pamela Zaynoun and Bilal Jawish's Arabic audio interview to know what happened in detail through the audio link attached to the picture above.
Warning This content may be distressing for some listeners.
Credit to some sound effects in this audio goes to Zapsplat.com