A LEADING Southend doctor has spoken of his sheer panic after his family were caught up in the terrifying explosions in Beirut, just 30 minutes away from their home.

Tragedy struck the capital of Lebanon on Tuesday evening, with at least 154 people killed, more than 5,000 wounded and 300,000 left homeless.

Dr Antoine Azzi, head of emergency at Southend Hospital, grew up in the area and still visits three times a year.

Now he has launched an urgent appeal to raise funds for those impacted by the tragedy.

Just five minutes after the blast he received a phone call from his mother Renee and sister Joyce back in their hometown of Okaibe, explaining that they had felt the house shake

The 48-year-old said: “I found out pretty much straight after the explosion, my family called to tell me the house had started shaking and that something bad had happened, but they wasn’t sure what.

“It wasn’t until they saw social media that they found out, but it was very scary not knowing what had happened to the doctors and friends who I used to work with for three years before I came to Southend. I texted them and waited hoping there would be no bad news.”

With the explosion blowing out power and electricity around the capital, Dr Azzi has commended teams for performing emergency operations with torches and even in car parks.

He continued: “They have been working 24 hours every day since the explosion saving limbs and lives. The blast hit where our best hospitals are out there and the electricity has gone, so they’ve been using their torches to do surgery and are using all the resources they have, even treating people in the car parks.

“They’re still finding people trapped under collapsed buildings, it really is devastating.

“I would’ve been on the first flight out if I didn’t have to quarantine, and Southend needs me here. I felt helpless so I set up a page encouraging donations for those smaller charities who help provide essentials like shelter and water.

“Thankfully none of my loved ones were hurt and my colleagues escaped with minor injuries from things collapsing in their house.

“These doctors truly are heroes, and I know Lebanon will pull through if we all help together.”

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