Local restaurant owner reacts to devastation in her home country of Lebanon

Posted at 3:24 PM, Aug 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-06 16:19:22-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - People around the world are reacting to the tragedy unfolding in Lebanon.

The deadly blast at the port near Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, Tuesday could be heard 150 miles away.

The latest numbers show 135 people are dead and 5,000 hurt - and those numbers could increase as search and rescue teams continue to dig through the debris.

Lina Azar-Saady and her husband own the Azar’s restaurants in Virginia Beach. They own a store and restaurant at Azar’s Mediterranean Specialties in Pembroke and another place in Hilltop.

Lebanon is their home country, and they have been watching the tragedy online and on the news.

She said her godmother, uncle, cousins and childhood friends all live there and many are close to where the explosion took place.

“Physically they’re okay, but they’re in shock. It was really scary for them to hear those booms,” said Azar-Saady.

She said customers here have been reaching out asking about her family members. She said Lebanon has already been dealing with all kinds of problems with the economy.

“They’ve been through a lot economically. It’s awful with the whole coronavirus and just the collapse of the system in Lebanon. This was the last blow, so how much more can we take?” said Azar-Saady.

Her restaurants have been in Hampton Roads since 1988. She moved to the United States in the 1980s.

“I know a lot of people here locally really appreciate Middle Eastern food. They can appreciate the culture, and there’s just so much more to the Lebanese people. They’re incredible people,” said Azar-Saady.

CBS has reported that the Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Tuesday's explosion was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate — which is used as a fertilizer in agriculture and as an explosive — that had been stored unsafely in a warehouse. They reported it was the most powerful blast ever seen in the city, which was on the front lines of the 1975-1990 civil war and has endured conflicts with neighboring Israel and periodic bombings and terror attacks.

Now, 300,000 people are homeless. Lina hopes this will shed light on some of the major problems in her home county.

“Something like this will finally wake up people to what’s going on there,” said Azar-Saady.

She said there is so much education, art and amazing people.

“It’s heartbreaking because our people are vibrant, loving, hospitable, and to see them struggle like this is very difficult,” said Azar-Saady.