There was too much going on on August 4th for one photographer and his camera to capture. To say the very least, everyone at the site of the explosion was overwhelmed and lost, completely in shock at what had become of Beirut.
But one particular picture that photographer Hassan Ammar took on that day has become one of the most recognizable of those taken of the horrific explosion, and it has made it to TIME’s top 10 photos of 2020.
“When I reached the site, I could not believe what I was seeing,” Ammar told TIME, revisiting the day the Lebanese capital was shattered by the detonation of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been unsafely stored at the Port of Beirut.
“I was taking pictures of everything when I saw men holding two injured girls on the highway opposite the port. I followed one until they reached a military vehicle that was being loaded with injured people to be evacuated to a hospital,” he recounted.
The resulting photograph evokes a mixture of emotions that give the viewer a brief, sorrowful opportunity to experience a small glimpse of the atmosphere that overshadowed Beirut on the fateful day of August 4th.
“To revisit these images, or to see them for the first time, is to acknowledge not just where we’ve been, but who we are.” ~ Stephanie Zacharek, with reporting by Andrew Katz – TIME.
As haunting as it is, aside from managing to capture so much of the devastation and shock in a single frame, the photo has a more powerful symbolic significance to it. It reflects, although gloomily, “who we are” as a nation at the core of our individual and collective humanity.
In the blurry distance, it shows people rushing to each other’s aid as their world burns and breaks apart all around them.
At its center, an injured 11-year-old girl is carried by her uncle as he makes his way through an apocalyptic scene of absolute destruction, to get her to safety.
The girl, Hoda Kinno, suffered a broken neck along with other injuries that nightmarish day. Her 15-year-old sister, Sedra, didn’t make it. She was killed in the explosion, as the photographer, who said that he couldn’t forget the injured girl’s face, later came to discover.
The sisters were two victims out of thousands of others whose lives were changed forever – or, in dozens of cases, abruptly ended – by one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in history, and one of, if not the deadliest calamity recorded in 2020.
As the effects of the catastrophe stay with us, and will probably do forever, it is worth engraving in our minds “who we are” and who we have stood out to be during that explosion and thereafter.