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Lac La Biche, one of Canada's most concentrated Lebanese communities, offers prayers

Mayor says thoughts and prayers go to family and friends in Beirut following deadly explosion.

The blasts were heard for kilometres around the Lebanese capital of Beirut, but Tuesday night's deadly explosions also shook the lives of families around the world. The shockwaves of emotion swept the Lac La Biche area, known to have one of Canada's largest per-capital population of Lebanese people.

"It really wasn't a world away. It was our family, our kin," said Lac La Biche County Mayor Omer Moghrabi who was born in Lebanon.

With as much as 15 per cent of the Lac La Biche region's 10,000 population having direct ties to Lebanon, the mayor said the community is sending its hopes and prayers to the families of those killed, injured and missing after a massive explosion in the sea-side city's port levelled buildings and sent a shock wave into the surrounding countryside and into the Mediterranean Sea that could be felt as far away as the island of Cyprus 250 kilometres west of Beirut.

While the mayor said relatives of area residents could have been living in Beirut or doing business in the city, most of the  Lebanese families who have settled in the Lac La Biche region for more than 100 years are from two smaller villages in the valleys east of the capital city. The village of Lala is approximately 80 kilometres southeast of Beirut and the village of Kherbet Rouha is about 70 kilometres east.

Finding out about the blasts early Wednesday morning due to the nine hour time difference, the mayor has spent a lot of time since the explosion speaking to local Lebanese residents, and finding information from them about family members in those villages. He told the Lac La Biche POST that people in the villages said they could see the plume of smoke and debris from the explosion and feel the shock wave.

Prayers and thoughts

Like millions of others, Moghrabi has also been getting information updates from global news outlets. The images of the explosion and the aftermath are devastating.

"Our prayers and our thoughts are with the Lebanese families, and for many of us here, our relatives," said the mayor.

Early reports on the cause of the explosion point to massive quantities of chemicals stored in buildings in the city's port area. Early reports also indicate that an initial fire began in a stockpile of fireworks which may have ignited the stored chemicals. Early Wednesday morning, death estimates were climbing over 100 with thousands injured and thousands still missing.

According to Statistics Canada, there are approximately 225,000 people in Canada claiming Lebanese ancestry. The city of Beirut has a population of approximately 350,000 people, with more than 2 million living in the surrounding areas.

Moghrabi says the Lac La Biche region's Lebanese community will maintain contact with family and friends in the hours, days and weeks ahead.

"It is a tragedy," he said.