A CALDICOT woman working in Beirut has told the Argus of the terrifying moment a massive explosion devastated a huge area of the city.

Abbie Cheeseman, 23, was talking to her mum Angela on the phone this afternoon when the blast blew in the windows and doors at her apartment just a kilometre away.

Miss Cheeseman has lived in the Lebanese capital since last September, working as a freelance investigative journalist.

At least 50 people were killed and more than 2,700 were injured, according to the latest estimates, and buildings in the immediate port area have been flattened. It is not yet clear exactly what caused the explosions

“I was very lucky,” said Miss Cheeseman, a former columnist with the Argus' sister paper the Monmouthshire Free Press.

“I got away with just a few cuts and bruises. I was in my flat. All of the windows and doors had blown in, everything off the walls - absolute chaos.

South Wales Argus:

Abbie Cheeseman

“I live a kilometre from the blast site, which is why it was complete pandemonium.

“You walk out onto the street, there are clouds of smoke and dust, people viscerally screaming, covered in blood, having been hit by flying debris. All the cars were completely smashed to bits.

“It looks like there were chemicals in the factory that exploded, so there are thousands of people who are trying to clean up the streets and figure out what to do with their homes and are doing so in potentially toxic smoke.

South Wales Argus:

The explosion in Beirut this afternoon. Picture: Karim Sokhn/PA Wire

“The hospitals are having to turn people away because they were over capacity anyway with coronavirus and the buildings are severely damaged.

"At my local hospital, the ER (emergency room) was blown up, so the medics are currently treating people in the car park.

“It’s complete pandemonium in the face of what already was a collapsing country”.


A month after Miss Cheeseman arrived in Lebanon, countrywide anti-government protests had started, followed by the coronavirus pandemic and an unprecedented economic crisis.

“The local currency has lost 80 per cent of its value, the middle class has been wiped out, half the population has been plunged into poverty," said Miss Cheeseman.

“It's a country that when I first moved out here as a 22-year-old freelancer was having issues, but it was still the playground of the rich and famous in the Middle East.

South Wales Argus:

The aftermath of the explosion. Picture: AP Photo/Hussein Malla

“It’s going through a really rough time, everything was collapsing, and now the city has physically collapsed.

“Lebanon will not be able to afford to rebuild. I think, more seriously, we’re going to see a high casualty toll. There are people still trapped in their homes in Beirut that the Red Cross can’t get to.

“There are firefighters who have disappeared after the blast. Many hundreds of people are injured.

“Also, we were in a two-day break from lockdown so there were many people in bars in Beirut, which is close to the port area.

“For days to come we’re going to see the casualty toll increasing, and if the reports around the chemical explosion are true, we’re also going to see the repercussions of that with the knock-on health effects”.