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Bill Kennedy, founder of sales and marketing agency Avicenna Partnerships and one of the best-known and most respected figures representing western publishers in the Arab World, has launched a crowd-funding scheme to support those who work in Beirut’s book industry, following the explosion that killed more than 200 people in the Lebanese capital on 4 August.
Contributions can be made at: https://cutt.ly/Od0B3Io Kennedy says he is hoping to raise £100,000.
“Devastation, damage, injury and death have impacted so many individuals, families and businesses in the beautiful city of Beirut. All citizens of Beirut have been impacted and some of those work in the book business which is where I work. On behalf of the many international publishers which I represent, it has been my pleasure to work with many such people closely enough to call them my friends, not one of whom has been unaffected by this dreadful event and its consequences. This is a situation that is going to last months, if not years, and it is important that it remains on the international agenda.
“The impact on the lives of these many friends has been utterly devastating. The help and engagement from the Lebanese government ‘elected’ to represent them has been either entirely missing or downright obstructive. Shame on the Lebanese government is fully deserved in so many ways, but that accomplishes nothing. What can help is money to fund attempts to rebuild lives out of this profound, unprecedented devastation.”
Kennedy understands that, thankfully it seems that staff at the retail chain and publisher Librairie Antoine are all safe and well, though the house of their CEO Sami Naufal suffered damage, with all of the windows in his family apartment (top floor) in the Hamra area of the city blown-out by the shock wave of the second explosion. At the time of writing the company is unaware of any casualties from their payroll. A number of the chain’s bookshops have sustained damage, mostly blown-out windows and internal damage from the shock wave.
The head office of the large wholesale distributor of books Ciel SARL is on the coastal road heading North out of Beirut (Dbayeh Highway), well beyond the Port where the explosions took place. But their building still sustained damage from the shockwave, with blown-out windows and doors. Many Ciel employees live in the city and their main commute will have taken them past the blast site on their way back home. Because the blast was just before 6pm, many will have reached their homes, but one of the buying team, Bernard Eid (known to many publishers) drove past the Port only five minutes before the first explosion. Nasher understands that Emile Khoury, Ciel’s CEO, and his family are safe and well.
The offices of book distributor and publisher Librarie Stephan sustained some damage – mainly blown-out windows at their showroom, but owners Eli and Rania Stephan and general manager Tania Rached are believed to be uninjured.
The premises of retail and B2B book distributor Papercup Bookstore were completely destroyed in the blast, but luckily owner Rania Naufal and members of staff were all uninjured. Naufal’s home sustained substantial damage so she has returned with her son to live in the home of her parents some way outside Beirut which was relatively undamaged.
For Therese Nasr, who is known to many in the publishing business having worked at Levant Distributors and Ciel SARL, the
explosion happened as she was returning to her home from church in the Achrafieh area of the city, so she was unhurt. But all the windows in her home were blown-out by the shock wave so her apartment is in a dreadful state but hopefully structurally sound in all respects other than the balcony (see attached pic). Workmen from her home village (Hammana), some 26 kilometres out of Beirut, are currently attempting to repair what they can with the limited materials they can acquire. Her car has also been badly damaged and is currently undrivable.
Elder statesman of the industry Nasser Jarrous, who runs Jarrous Press, described the situation as “a big catastrophe. I can’t describe what happened . It’s like Hiroshima. Destruction is everywhere. Hospitals are destroyed. Thanks to God my family are safe and only some damage at home.”
The explosion is believed to have been caused by a large fire at the Port of Beirut, which spread to a warehouse containing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate.
Kennedy adds: “My aim is to route donations through one trustworthy source in Beirut to a number of those working in the book business who are in most need, to help them through this unbelievably challenging period which will stretch out over many months.
“Insurance companies locally are a long way from being in a position to even consider claims either personal or business … if ever. The Lebanese Government is at best inert or at worst, proving to be obstructive. As Port de Beyrouth has been destroyed, the only route for imports is via Rafik Hariri International airport, currently becoming congested with inbound aid personnel and equipment, so materials required for repair and replacement of damage is being hampered. Even when that situation does begin to improve, Air Freight costs will add to the price and imports are currently running at between 5 or 6 times more expensive than 8 months ago due to the devaluation of the local currency…This situation will continue to cause major distress in Beirut for many months to come so it is critically important that it has a profile within book trade media even after it drops down the international news agenda.”