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"Our hearts are shattered into pieces": Relatives remember loved ones who died in Beirut explosion

With a mix of grief and rage, Lebanese nationals all over the world have entered a period of mourning following the powerful blast on August 4, which killed at least 171 people, injured thousands and plunged Lebanon into a deeper political crisis. 

Adding to the trauma, residents of Beirut have taken on much of the cleanup themselves, bandaging their wounds and retrieving what's left of their homes.

While bereaved family members are grieving their loved ones, others continue frantic searches for the missing. As the death toll from the explosion continues to rise, hopes anyone could have survived so long under the debris are starting to fade.

Krystel el Adem 

Krystel el Adem
This image shows the funeral for Krystel el Adem. Courtesy of Fady Fayad

Immediately after the explosion, Krystel el Adem's father called her to make sure she was safe. The 35-year-old was inside her apartment alone, stuck under a closet that had fallen on top of her, her longtime friend, Greta Fayad, told CBS News. "When her dad called, she pleaded for help. She told him, 'Dad, save me.'"

Dr. Nazih el Adem rushed to his car and drove toward his daughter's apartment. As he reached the center of the capital, scattered debris made the roads impossible to access, so he abandoned his car and ran to his daughter's building, Fayad said.

El Adem, a cardiologist, performed CPR on his daughter, who was slowly losing consciousness. When he was finally able to get her to a nearby hospital, they were turned away because the building had been severely damaged by the blast, Fayad said.

Patients were being transferred from the hospital and Krystel was transported to another facility. But her father wasn't able to ride with her because the ambulance was full of victims, Fayad said. That was the last time he saw his daughter alive.

El Adem spent the rest of the night searching for his daughter in hospitals across the city. Later that night, he received a call from Krystel's coworker, who was also searching for her at a local morgue. He identified Krystel by the bracelets she wore on her left wrist.

"After performing CPR on her, Krystel's dad refused to wash her blood off his mouth. It was the last thing he had left of his daughter," Fayad said.

Up until 2013, el Adem lived in Geneva, Switzerland, where she had built a successful career in private wealth management at Goldman Sachs. But she made the decision to leave the economic safety and stability of life in Europe to go back home.

"She missed her roots, her culture, her people. She believed in our country and in its soul. She believed that if every successful Lebanese emigrated, who would be left to help this country become a better place?" Fady Fayad, a close friend, said.

The night of the explosion, she was supposed to be at her parent's home in Jounieh, an area about 20 miles north of Beirut that was less damaged by the blast. But Krystel had a last-minute change of plans, Fayad said. She had purchased a laptop for a teenage boy she knew from a church organization. His parents could not afford the laptop after his classes had switched online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"She spent all day with him and his mother explaining how to work a laptop. That's what Krystel spent her last day alive doing. Helping others. This is a beautiful testament to the empathetic, helpful, caring soul she was," Fayad said.

"It's impossible to imagine that a girl who loved life that much ended up losing it this way," Fayad's husband, Fady, said. "The Lebanese people have been through a lot. But we will rise again, and we will make sure those whose lives were taken did not die in vain."

Greta Fayad said she disagrees with those who consider the blast victims martyrs. "To me, she was not a martyr. She was a victim of our corrupt government. She did not choose to leave the world this way."

Joseph Akiki

One month before the explosion, Joe Akiki turned 23. He worked as an electrician at the city's port to pay for his college tuition fees. He majored in electrical engineering. Hours before the blast, he called his mother to let her know he wouldn't be coming home that night - he had picked up an overnight shift at the port.

Akiki sent a video to close friends before the blast, showing a fire at the port. At that point, he didn't think much of it, said Charbel Beaino, a family friend. "And then, he disappeared," Beaino said.

His mother, who had lost another child aged 5, appeared on Lebanese TV, saying she was full of hope that her son will be found alive. "I will keep on waiting because I know that Joe Akiki is strong, Joe Akiki is a hero," she said.

Akiki was missing for several days before his body was recovered. Akiki, who was engaged politically and supported the Lebanese revolution, dreamt of a better future for his country and wanted to improve his parents' and his own life.

"The job at the port wasn't his dream job," Beaino said. "He worked to pay for his college fees, in order to succeed in life and help his community through his education. But the current economic situation in Lebanon made it hard for him to find something else. So, he held on to the job he had."

"He was sadly a victim of the Lebanese government's nonchalance," he added. 

Jihad Saade

Jihad Saade and his wife, Souha, were at a hospital looking after their 6-year-old daughter, Gemma, who was being treated for lymphoma, according to a family friend, who asked to remain anonymous.

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Jihad Saade Facebook

Saade, 44, was standing next to a window when the explosion rocked the city, the friend said. He was severely injured by the blast and eventually died from his injuries. Souha and Gemma were unharmed. The hospital, located less than a mile from the explosion, sustained severe damage.

"I saw his soul leaving his body. I saw it, but I didn't surrender. I wanted to move (him) to a different hospital," Souha Saade said in an interview with Russia Today.

Saade lived in Nigeria, where he was raised and where he worked to provide for his family. He eventually traveled to Beirut to see his daughter and his son, Karl. "He spent all his time by his daughter's bedside, without leaving her for one second. He would just go home to shower, and go back to be with her," the friend said.

Gemma had just one more day of treatment left before she could leave the hospital.

Summertime had always been synonymous with joy and celebration for Jihad Saade's family. He and his son's birthday as well as his wedding anniversary, all fall during the summer months. Now, Souha blames herself for breaking the promise she had made to her son that both her and his dad would be there to celebrate his birthday, the family friend said.

"This is Souha's second (shock) from 2020. First, her daughter's diagnosis. Now, she has to go back to an empty home, without her husband to lean on. There are no words. It's just heartbreaking."

Sahar Fares

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Sahar Fares, 27, was a member of a team of first responders that answered the initial call concerning a fire at the port. The emergency medical worker died in the explosion that followed, BBC News reported.

Fares was planning her wedding with Gilbert Karaan, who she was set to marry next summer. Instead, her heartbroken fiance and family recently marched alongside her coffin and gave her the wedding party she will never have. A wedding band played at the funeral procession, which aired on Lebanese national TV.

"Everything you wanted will be present except you in a white wedding dress," Karaan wrote on Instagram. "You broke my heart. Life has no taste now that you're gone."

Fares devoted herself to public service and had managed to break into the nearly all-male world of the Beirut Fire Brigade, The New York Times reported.

Karaan told BBC News he called Fares after she sent him a video showing him the fire that consumed a warehouse at the Port of Beirut. "I told her to run again if there was something wrong. She started running. She was running and was shouting, 'Run, run run!'"

Seconds later, he said, he heard the sound of the explosion, and "the phone went dead."

Fares' engagement ring was found with her body. Her fiance, Karaan, now wears it around his neck.  "I was going to marry her in a white dress. Instead, I buried her in a white coffin," Karaan told BBC News. "Who could replace her? I have no feelings. I'm numb... She was as strong as a hundred men. How could she be killed this way?"

William Azar

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William Azar, right, his girlfriend Anna Zasenko. Anna Zasenko

William Azar, a 32-year-old economist, was sitting on the passenger seat next to his father on his way back home from work when the explosion occurred. His girlfriend, Anna Zasenko, was sitting in the back of the car.

"We made a brief stop at the ATM on our way home," Zasenko said. "And as soon as we got back into the car, we heard the first explosion."

Zasenko said the blast shattered the car windows but no one had been harmed. "At first, I thought there had been a bomb at the bank." 

Before Zasenko could gather her thoughts, the second explosion happened. 

"When William's dad and I regained consciousness a few seconds later, we saw a stone slab from the building above us had fallen on top of him," Zasenko said. "I remember asking God to keep him alive." 

Given the number of casualties and debris throughout the city, Zasenko said they waited "a very long time" for an ambulance until a passerby eventually drove them to the hospital.

"By the time we got there, it was too late," Zasenko said. "His dad and I didn't even have a scratch. He took everything upon himself, as always." 

Zasenko, whose relationship with William started in 2015, said she has never met such a "kind, loving, considerate and positive person," and that he had a "brilliant future ahead of him." She added that "he lived for his family," constantly putting their well-being and health before anything else.

Zasenko said she and William had many plans and dreams. "We were going to buy a house, get married, have kids. We didn't need anything other than each other to be happy. He was my source of happiness, and it was stolen from me. I don't know how to live without him," she said. 

Zasenko recalls her last memory with William, the morning of the blast. "When I opened my eyes early that morning, it was very cold in the bedroom. I saw he was freezing, so I held him tight to warm him up. We stayed in this position until we got out of bed," she said. "He was my soulmate. He meant the world to me. I still can't believe he's no longer here."

Delia Guedikian Papazian

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Delia Guedikian Papazian, right, her son and daughter.  Suzanne Habchi Guedikian

Delia Guedikian Papazian, 44, lived on the ninth floor of a building facing the port. The night of the blast, she was in the living room with her 15-year-old daughter, 8-year-old son, and her daughter's best friend, according to her sister-in-law, Suzanne Habchi Guedikian.

The friend of Delia's daughter, in a Facebook post, wrote about what happened when the explosion hit: "Her mom Delia was trying to get us away from the glass and the windows but unfortunately while she was trying to get to safety with us, the (whole) house exploded. It was too late... Everything happened in front of our eyes as we were screaming our lungs out for Delia. But there was no answer."

In a panic and fearing the building would collapse, they ran from the building for help, barefoot in the glass. "The little boy holding my hand was so lost and afraid. I had never seen such a look on his face. His cheeks had become so red, and the look in his eyes fractured my heart into thousands of pieces," she wrote.

Later that evening, Delia's brother, rushed to the apartment to find his sister. Habchi Guedikian said he could hear screaming from all corners of the building. "We were hoping she was only injured. But it wasn't the case," Habchi Guedikian said. "He called me immediately. She wasn't moving and her eyes were closed. Delia had already left us when her brother arrived."

Habchi Guedikian called Delia the "most loving, humble, compassionate person," and "one of the purest and most beautiful souls one could ever meet."

She said Delia was torn between staying and leaving Lebanon, hoping for a better future for her family. Delia's children are staying with relatives for the time being. "My husband and I will always look after them as if they were our own," she added.

"Our hearts are shattered into pieces. Our lives will never be the same again. Beirut will never be the same again. We hope that the loss we have suffered will inspire us to pick up the pieces and build a better future for our children."

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