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Lebanon: ''They are not just numbers'': family of missing silo employee pleads for help

Beirut, Lebanon: Before he went missing on August 4, Ghassan Hasrouty, an employee at Beirut's silos for the past 38 years, thought he was working in the safest place in the city.

The giant silos' reinforced concrete walls and underground rooms where his shelter for many hours and days during Lebanon's long civil war. He used to tell his family that he was more worried for them than himself when he set out to work every morning during the civil war of 1975-1990. At 17:30 Beirut local time on Tuesday, Hasrouty called his wife Ibtissam saying that he will be sleeping at the silo that night because a shipment of grains was arriving and he could not leave. He told her to send him a blanket and pillow. She has not heard from him since.

Hasrouty's family believe that he and six of his colleagues are somewhere under the silos and they are holding out the hope that they are still alive. They say that Lebanon's rescue response has been too slow and too unorganised that whatever chance there is for them to be alive is being lost.
The family says that despite giving the authorities the exact location of where he is believed to have been at the time of the explosion, the actual rescue effort did not start until 40 hours later.
At their home in Beirut, the family has gathered every day since watching the news and anxiously await any information. 

"These people who are missing are not just numbers,'' says Elie, Hasrouty's 35 year old son. "We need to highlight the mediocrity of management of this disaster, of this situation, how bad it is managed...not to repeat such a horrible disaster and horrible management afterwards."

Tuesday's blast, the biggest ever to hit Beirut, injured more than 6,000 people and left an estimated 300,000 Lebanese effectively homeless as shockwaves ripped miles inland. Officials have said the blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, a substance used in manufacturing fertilizers and bombs, which had been stored for six years in a port warehouse without adequate safety measures.
The government has promised to hold those responsible to account, but residents are seething with anger. The health ministry on Saturday said 21 people were still missing. At least 158 have been killed and the entire face of the city changed.

Hasrouty, whose own father worked at the same silos for 40 years, was a man dedicated to his job, his family says. His daughter Tatiana, 19, flits between resignation and hope. "We did not even get a chance to say goodbye. But we are still waiting for all come back."

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