Heading back to Beirut

Scott Jagow Aug 14, 2006

SCOTT JAGOW: [Sound of traffic, honking horns] That’s the sound from southern Beirut today. Thousands of cars jammed the bombed-out highways leading to the city. A United Nations ceasefire ends five weeks of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. So the Lebanese people are trying to get back to their homes and businesses. But there’s an awful lot of damage. Reporter Ben Gilbert joins us from Beirut.

BEN GILBERT: I’m essentially standing underneath a bridge that’s missing an entire two lanes because of an Israeli bomb. I mean, there’s dust . . . You can probably hear the cars going by right now, and they’re kicking up rubble from this bridge and this eight-story apartment building next to me. I mean, the infrastructure costs are enormous in this area. I’ve had an economist estimate to me that there’s at least 2,000 to 3,000 units of housing destroyed down here. Now, that’s just an estimate and that was a week ago. There’s been dozens of Israeli air strikes in this area since then. Also, the water, the electricity in this area, there’s no power in this area.

JAGOW: So how long are we talking before Lebanese folks can get back to life as normal, business as usual?

GILBERT: People are walking around here shell-shocked. To give you an idea about the mood here, for the future, we met a woman who was crying as she looked at her home. People are stunned at the scale of destruction here. Now, this is just the southern suburbs. I’ve met many middle class and upper middle class Lebanese who are very pessimistic, who say it’ll be 10 years to rebuild. The tourist season, which was supposed to begin in July this year, is completely shot. It was the biggest year since 1974, since before the civil war began.

JAGOW: I imagine a lot of the businesses that have been affected here are small businesses. Thinking back to New Orleans and Katrina, I know how hard it was for those small businesses to get back on their feet. Are we looking at the same kind of thing here?

GILBERT: I think so. In the southern suburbs, at least, there are essentially no shops open. I’ve seen men sitting in front of their mechanics shops, or small shops that sell water or candy or juice, little corner shops, just sitting there. And they’re entire stocks are blasted across the street. The shop windows are blown out. These are all essentially privately owned small business that rely on neighborhood patrons, customers from nearby, returning customers that they know. And the question is whether or not these people will return to the southern suburbs to check the status of their homes. And whether or not they come back is questionable and that would obviously affect the businesses in the area.

JAGOW: Ben Gilbert reporting from Beirut.

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