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Volunteers step in to help clean up devastation in Beirut

Lebanese soldiers search for survivors after a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The explosion flattened much of a port and damaged buildings across Beirut, sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. In addition to those who died, more than 3,000 other people were injured, with bodies buried in the rubble, officials said.(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

BEIRUT — Volunteers from across the country of Lebanon have shown up en masse to help clean up after a massive explosion last week in Beirut. 

With more than 300,000 people left homeless by the Aug. 4 blast and the Prime Minister Hassan Diab announcing his government would step down, the locals turned to each other.

“Ever since this explosion happened, we looked around us and we realized that we, the Lebanese civilians, us hand in hands, we are the government,” Nour El Achi, a volunteer and organizer with the local activist group Minteshreen told Business Insider. “Not a single public administration took to the streets in order to help these people. Not a single public establishment actually tries to clean the roads to clean up this tragedy, this catastrophe.”

Current reports estimate 171 people died after 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in a port warehouse. The substances had been stored there for nearly six years after a cargo ship docked for “technical difficulties.” The ship’s captain later told Reuters the ship was left after a legal dispute over port fees.

Frustrations building

In the week since the blast, people have protested around the blast site, voicing their frustrations with their government.

Currently, Business Insider reports that nearly half of Lebanon’s population is living below the poverty line; the country reports 33% unemployment. This, they say, is due to years of government corruption and mismanagement that led to massive inflation of the Lebanese pound.

“We have to come together, the government has done absolutely nothing, not even the municipality. It’s always up to us to rebuild our city when they destroy it like this,” Afif Ayad, the founder of “My People, My Responsibility,” a nongovernmental organization, told NBC.

“We live in a parallel world at the moment and have zero trust in anything the government does. We don’t need them and we don’t care,” Ayad said. “We decide what we want. We feed each other and we fight side-by-side together against them. It’s our city to get back on track, not theirs.”

Volunteer clean up efforts in Beirut

NBC reports that volunteers have become more sophisticated in their clean up efforts, breaking the city into smaller sections where searchers, architects and structural engineers can systematically check homes for damage.

They say the volunteers have also hired out heavy machinery to move piles of rubble and debris. Volunteers even used Google Maps to track piles of recyclables. Later, others come back and turn the shattered glass into usable glass.

Often, as the Washington Post reports, people would return home to Beirut to find clean up had already happened. 

“Every time I would come back to my apartment, which is obviously relatively destroyed, it would still end up being cleaner and cleaner,” a man named Adam told them.

“This city has been destroyed 100 times, and each time we rebuild it — but it doesn’t ever get rebuilt by the government. It’s always rebuilt because of the people,” Ayad said.