DALLAS — A D-FW native now living in Beirut shared his experience after he survived a deadly explosion last week.
Steven Wilbur grew up in the Grapevine/Colleyville area but now runs a school for coding and robotics in Beirut, Lebanon, focused on educating youth from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“I was in my apartment at the time that it happened. And my apartment is just over a kilometer from the blast site,” Wilbur said.
“There was a sort of explosion that was smaller, that I think a lot of people felt. And my building shook,” he recalled. “And then I walked to the window- my building faces another building that is directly across the street. And so I looked across the street to a man who was on his balcony and I kind of motioned to him like ‘What was that?’
“I had this feeling like I should probably go inside because maybe something else was going to happen. I turned around and it wasn’t probably a second later that I was knocked to the ground by the big blast that happened,” Wilbur said. “I just remember everything shaking, everything dusty, and the progressive impact of that. I felt it in my whole body.”
“If I hadn’t been in that room, I could have been in a lot worse shape at the end of it,” Wilbur said. “Every other room in my house, there were glass doors that blew into the room and across the room.”
The reported death toll from the explosion is now almost 160. More than 100 are missing and more than 5,000 are injured.
“What I know is that there were about 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate being stored at the port,” Wilbur said. “There was a fire next to them and those tons of ammonium nitrate weren’t being stored properly and the fire that was there got to the place that was being stored and it exploded.”
Since the explosion, protests filled the streets.
“The people in power, the leaders of the country knew that this was being stored there and the country has really blamed them for mismanagement of resources and negligence for the reason for this catastrophe,” he said. “They’ve taken out some of the buildings of ministries of government and certain members of parliament have stepped down.”
“There were protests starting back in last October, and those had kind of slowed down with all the other challenges that we’ve had,” he added. “But after this explosion, I think people have said, 'This is enough.' And so they are back out on the street, even as we talk right now.”
At this point, Wilbur’s just grateful to not have serious injuries or worse.
“I’ve had a couple of times in my life where I was in danger, whether it was a car accident, or a skiing accident. There’s been a few times where things could have gotten a lot worse than they did, and I think that this is one of those times,” Wilbur said. “It was very possible for it to be a lot worse and a lot of people who I know have come out of this in a lot worse shape. I grieve for their situation, and I’m just grateful to be in the current state that I am, and I hope to do some good with that.”
After four years in Lebanon, Wilbur has grown to love the people of the country and he hopes North Texas pays attention to the ongoing crisis.
“I would urge people in North Texas to look on Lebanon with great compassion. This is a hard-working and compassionate and passionate people,” Wilbur said. “This is not representative of the Lebanese people. This event that just happened is the negligence of a few which is affecting many.”