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Death follows refugee family from Syrian war to Beirut blast

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Ahmed Staifi’s wife fled the relentless bombing in neighbouring Syria only to die in the biggest explosion ever to hit Beirut.

Syrian refugee Ahmed Staifi poses for a picture in front of the house were his wife and two of his daughters were killed following a massive explosion, in Beirut, Lebanon, August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

His family escaped the war raging across the border in Syria six years ago, looking for refuge in Lebanon where he was already living and working as a labourer.

“My wife had called me and said Ahmed, ‘I’m fleeing the war and coming to you.’ Death followed her here,” the Syrian father of four said.

When Staifi rushed home after the warehouse explosion that rocked Beirut last week, he heard his daughter calling out from beneath the rubble of their apartment.

“I came to see my family, and I found this. One of my daughters was yelling ‘Dad, Dad I don’t want to die,’” he recalled.

She survived, as did another child who remains in intensive care.

But his wife Khaldiya and his youngest and oldest daughters - Jude and Latifa, aged 13 and 24 - were killed as a mushroom cloud rose above the Lebanese capital from the blast at Beirut port.

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It reduced the three-storey building where Staifi’s family lived into slabs of concrete and twisted metal.

The explosion, which killed more than 160 people and injured 6,000 more, demolished entire neighbourhoods of Lebanon’s capital in an instant, including Karantina, where the Staifi family had enjoyed a mostly quiet life.

More than a million refugees from the Syrian war have poured into Lebanon since 2011, when the conflict there erupted. Many, scraping by on daily labour and living in camps, have languished in poverty.

At least 43 Syrians were reportedly killed in the explosion at Beirut port.

The blast compounded months of economic collapse in Lebanon which had crashed the local currency and left many Lebanese in dire financial straits. It also fueled public outrage that led to the collapse of the government.

Officials have said a huge stockpile of highly explosive material was stored in unsafe conditions at the port for years.

In a speech declaring his government’s resignation on Monday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab blamed endemic corruption.

But the last thing on Staifi’s mind is the investigation of the blast right now.

“What can I do? My family is gone,” he said. “I have nothing.”

Now, he said, he does not call to check up on his relatives in his city of Idlib in northwest Syria, ravaged by years of war. “Now, they’re checking up on me instead.”

Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by Angus MacSwan