BEIRUT — At around 3:20 a.m. on Monday morning, minutes seemed to last for hours in Lebanon as the tremors of a powerful earthquake in Turkey woke up many Lebanese and caused some material damage. The impact of the quake in Lebanon is still being assessed.
The country was jolted awake in the middle of the night, with many saying the experience evoked the traumatic memory of Aug. 4, 2020, the day a massive quantity of ammonium nitrate exploded at the Port of Beirut.
While the death toll from the overnight earthquake is so far in the thousands in both Turkey and Syria, no injuries or fatalities have been reported in Lebanon, according to caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi. However, the minister called on residents "to evacuate dilapidated buildings in order to avoid a new disaster," adding that the tremor was felt at a magnitude of 4.9 on the Richter scale in Lebanon.
Aftershocks from the earthquake, including a very powerful one measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale in Turkey, were still felt in parts of Lebanon during the day.
'The streets were filled, as if in broad daylight'
Near the Dora roundabout in Beirut, a young woman described how her household reacted when they felt the tremor: "With my family, we went straight out into the street and stayed in the car for an hour, in front of the house, for fear that the building would collapse."
She was not the only one; the whole neighborhood did the same. "The streets were filled, as if in broad daylight. My mother told me that she thought she was reliving another Aug. 4th," she added.
In many other neighborhoods in Lebanon, residents had the reflex to leave their homes. Videos show lines of cars along the highway leading to the Beirut international airport, in the southern suburbs.
In Minieh and Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, our correspondent in the area reported that "frightened residents came out of their homes."
"Many of them fired shots in the air to wake up the others, and for fear of a new tremor," our correspondent said, adding that in the neighborhood of Nahr al-Bared, the wall of a building partially collapsed.
In both North Lebanon and Beirut, the muezzins of mosques broadcast Quranic verses and prayers, while residents walked the streets in the rain and cold.
Falling wall, cabinet meeting
"I heard a noise, at first I thought it was the storm. But I soon realized that it was an earthquake, as my wardrobe was moving and the fan was oscillating," our correspondent in Saida, South Lebanon, said.
"I felt like it lasted 10 minutes and there were more tremors. So I quickly told my wife to get under the table," he continued, adding that many residents of the area left their homes.
"An old building was evacuated, for fear of a collapse. Civil Defense agents are inspecting the damage inside," he added.
In a radio interview on Monday morning, Mawlawi said he is "continuing to monitor the extent of the damage with the Internal Security Forces [ISF] and Civil Defense," adding that no buildings have collapsed and that no injuries have been reported. The minister made these remarks shortly after 8 a.m.
"The Lebanese felt the tremor for more than 40 seconds, and it was 4.9 on the Richter scale," he said.
"It is not true that buildings collapsed in the north or in Beirut, and so far only a wall has fallen in Burj Hammoud," a suburb of the capital, Mawlawi added.
He then called on "all residents to evacuate dilapidated buildings if cracks are seen, for fear of a new disaster."
Reports from the Bekaa also indicate that the quake allegedly caused the collapse of a house in the town of Ain Ata, in the Rashaya al-Wadi district of the Bekaa Valley, without causing casualties.
In the same region, a glass factory in Taanayel was damaged and 80 percent of the goods in the factory were destroyed.
According to L'Orient Today's correspondent in the North, scaffolds fell off rooftops of some buildings into the streets in Dahr al-Maghar area in Tripoli, though no casualties were reported. The metal ceiling of the stadium of Nahr al-Bared also collapsed. It was still not clear whether these incidents occurred as a result of the quake or severe weather.
In the morning, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati called an emergency meeting of the National Committee for Disaster Management at the Grand Serail in Beirut, followed by a cabinet meeting.
At the end of the meeting, caretaker Minister of Environment Nasser Yassin announced that several dozen rescue workers would be sent to Turkey, an announcement confirmed by the Lebanese Army.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education announced Monday afternoon that all public and private schools in Lebanon would close until Wednesday.
The General Confederation of Lebanese Workers postponed their strike, planned for Wednesday, by one week.The deadliest earthquake in Lebanon's modern history took place in 1956. With a magnitude of 5.6 degrees on the Richter scale, it killed 136 people and destroyed 6,000 homes.