If you saw the news last week, you probably saw videos and reports of a massive explosion in the city of Beirut in Lebanon. The blast wiped out the downtown area, uprooting hundreds of thousands of residents from their homes. In all, the explosion killed at least 220 people and injured another 5,000.
It seems to have been caused by the improper storage of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate, a chemical compound commonly used as an agricultural fertilizer, which had been sitting in the port for years until it exploded in a red cloud above the city. The local government resigned after protesters took to the streets to voice their opposition to the country’s leadership, including what they see as a long history of neglect and corruption.
In the aftermath, thousands of local volunteers including nurse Pamela Zeinoun, raced to the scene of the explosion to help those in need. She was one of the brave men and women that risked their lives to save as many lives as possible amid the destruction of the blast.
Her decision paid off. She was able to save the lives of three infants, culminating in a viral social media photo that’s brought joy and hope to millions of people all over the world.
Learn the shocking details behind her amazing story.
The Day of the Blast
It was the blast heard around the world, now considered one of the worst industrial accidents in history. The timing of the blast couldn’t have been worse. It came in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic when many people were trapped at home or isolated from their loved ones. Lebanon is also in the middle of a devastating economic crisis brought on by years of poor leadership and systemic corruption.
In an instant, nearly 300,000 people were left homeless. Hospitals that managed to survive the blast intact were soon flooded with injured patients. Many people did not have access to medical care during the immediate aftermath of the blast, which could lead to a range of long-term health issues and complications.
Photos of the incident have since traveled all over the internet. You’ll see a massive red, mushroom cloud hovering over the coastal city, a grim scene that many of us won’t forget anytime soon.
How Pamela Zeinoun Responded
As a nurse at Saint George Hospital University Medical Cente in Beirut, Pamela Zeinoun thought it was just a normal day of work when she showed up to the hospital on August 4th. She went about her shift taking care of her infant patients like normal until a sudden blast knocked her unconscious.
When she came to, the hospital was severely damaged. Amid all the confusion, she knew she had to take care of her patients. As Zeinoun told ITV News, “The thing that I felt was that these babies belong to me; they are under my protection. If they are going to make it, they are going to make it with me.”
In the pitch-black hospital, she raced to the room with her patients and took three infant babies off their incubators just as the ceiling of the facility was about to collapse. If she had hesitated or stayed unconscious, these children probably wouldn’t be alive today.
She soon caught up with photojournalist Bilal Jawich who snapped a photo of her holding the three babies, which has since gone viral. At the time, Zeinoun was trying to call her mother to make sure she was okay, but all the phones at the hospital were dead.
However, Jawich was blown away by her resolve in the moment. As he told the TODAY Show, “She was surrounded by dead bodies and blood. People were crying. I was astonished and surprised by how calm she was. She was just doing her duty. She wasn’t looking to be a hero.”
Many providers and staff raced to save their patients during the aftermath of the explosion. They described it as waking up to a war zone. One minute everything was fine, and then it felt as if the sky was on fire. A pregnant woman was able to give birth at the hospital, even though the explosion literally ripped through the delivery room as she was going into labor.
For the city of Beirut, Nurse Zeinoun, and her patients, it was a moment unlike any other. Thanks to her bravery, these children will live to see another day.