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'I thought a war had started'

Beirutb

A Brunel student based in Beirut described in harrowing detail the devastation after a blast likened to a nuclear bomb flattened the city, killing 135 people and leaving 5,000 hurt.

Luca Mouzannar, 20, was studying his room when the explosion hit and ran into the living room where his mother and dogs were. As he ran, a second blast destroyed the house.

“I thought a war had started, that my street had been attacked,” the creative writing student told Martha Kearney on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.

Outside 30 minutes later, streets blanketed with smashed glass were complete chaos, he said. “There was people walking with blood on their faces, their bodies, their hands. We didn’t understand. We really didn’t understand.”

Tuesday evening’s explosion was so ferocious people 145 miles away in Cyprus felt it.

Poet Daljit Nagra, who teaches creative writing at Brunel, said: “It puts everything into perspective for us with Covid. We really feel for him and want to support him and the best way we can is to give him a voice.”

“He said the windows were smashed, the front door had come in. And I assume there’s not much support there. He’s a really lovely, polite, hard-working student. I don’t know what state he is in, he is probably suffering trauma.”

Today Europe got ready to send hundreds of aid workers to the stricken capital which has declared three days of national mourning as firefighters hunt for people trapped in the ruins.

Anger is mounting at officials who reportedly ignored warnings about the massive stash of ammonium nitrate that caused it. A 2,750-tonne mountain of the chemical, used for fertilisers and explosives for mining, had been stored at the port since 2013 when it was seized from a Russian ship.

For Lebanese, it is the latest in an endless string of crises. After decades of bloody civil war, the economy has tanked, sparking a revolution in October, when the second-year student joined more than a million people on the streets to protest against government corruption.

Students touched by trauma can get support from Student Services