"People stand out amidst these violent and dark and evil circumstances and this nurse was up to the task," photojournalist Bilal Jawich said of the image

By Joelle Goldstein
August 06, 2020 12:33 PM
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The nurse at Al Roum hospital
| Credit: Bilal Jawich/Xinhua via Getty

A nurse is being praised as a hero after she was photographed cradling three newborns in a hospital following the explosion in Beirut, Lebanon.

Shortly after the fatal explosion on Tuesday, which reportedly killed at least 135 people and injured at least 5,000, photojournalist Bilal Jawich shared a moving image he captured showing a nurse at Al Roum hospital in the Ashrafieh area cradling three newborns on her chest.

"16 years of press photography and lots of wars," he captioned the Facebook post. "This 'heroine' caught me inside the hospital and was accelerating to call despite the suspension of communication holding three newborn babies and surrounded by dozens of bodies and wounded."

The powerful photo has since gone viral, with over 4,800 shares and hundreds of comments from users praising the woman for her courage, heroic actions and serving as "a small glimmer of hope amongst tragedy."

Speaking to CNN Arabic, Jawich explained that he was at home on the outskirts of Beirut when the explosion occurred. Without hesitation, the photojournalist said he followed his "professional intuition" and jumped into action.

"I followed the smoke until I reached the port of Beirut," he told the outlet, adding that once he arrived, he was "amazed" to find the nurse holding the three babies.

Aftermath of Beirut explosion
| Credit: IBRAHIM AMRO/AFP via Getty

Even more amazing, however, was the nurse's demeanor amid the chaos of the hospital, which had been severely damaged by the explosive blast, leaving multiple people dead or injured on the ground nearby.

"I noticed the nurse's calm, which contrasted the surrounding atmosphere just one meter away," Jawich told CNN Arabic. "However, the nurse looked like she possessed a hidden force that gave her self-control and the ability to save those children. People stand out amidst these violent and dark and evil circumstances and this nurse was up to the task."

Jawich said he later learned that the nurse was in the maternity ward at the time of the explosion and had been knocked unconscious by its impact. However, when she regained consciousness, she "found herself carrying these three children."

Though the nurse and trio of babies were some of the lucky ones, many others at the hospital — including 12 patients, two visitors, and four nurses — did not survive the blast, George Saad, the emergency preparedness and disaster manager for the hospital, told CNN.

Aftermath from the explosion
| Credit: Daniel Carde/Getty

The explosion, which occurred near the city's waterfront, was so powerful, it was felt more than 150 miles away in Cyprus, The New York Times reported, adding that the neighborhood in which it occurred was “essentially flattened.”

The fatal blast may have begun with a fire that then spread to fireworks that then ignited ammonium nitrate being stored in the port, the Associated Press reported, citing both experts and footage from the blast.

Lebanese Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi told a local TV station that he believed more than 2,700 tons of the chemical compound — commonly used as an agricultural fertilizer — were detonated in the blast, according to the AP.

The ammonium nitrate had reportedly been stored in a warehouse at the dock since 2014, when it was confiscated from a cargo ship.

A Lebanese general, however, told local TV that it would be "naive to describe such an explosion as due to fireworks," according to CNN.

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The Times reported that ammonium nitrate is also being blamed by officials for the explosion and, according to CNN, an investigation will hone in on the ammonium nitrate stored at the port.

Experts told the AP that other explosions involving the chemical compound led to similarly massive scales of damage.

Fahmi, the Lebanese minister, did not mention fireworks as a possible cause, but Boaz Hayoun, owner of the Israeli firm Tamar Group, told the AP that all signs pointed to fireworks, too.

As officials continue to investigate and provide the city with aid, people are being encouraged to help by donating to several relief organizations, including The Lebanese Red Cross, UNICEF and Save the Children.