It took 11 months before Waleed Sayed could walk back into the furniture showroom where he had worked up until last year.
One year ago today, the Egyptian expat was standing in the center of Fiore Rosso Creative Garden Design, located in a retail plaza next to a petrol station near Landmark Mall.
Sayed, who is now 34 years old, had been at work for an hour and a half before a powerful explosion ripped through a neighboring Turkish restaurant around 10am.
The blast killed 11 people and injured dozens more, including Sayed.
He suffered a deep cut on his leg from the glass shards and metal scraps that rained down from the furniture store’s skylight.
Five of the men who were killed hailed from India, four from Nepal and two from the Philippines. Many of them were married with children, but their families lived back in their home countries.
Sayed said he was taken to Hamad Medical Corp. (HMC) that morning, where he received six stitches and was released later that day. However, the furniture store was badly damaged in the explosion and remained closed until late last month.
Meanwhile, Sayed and several other employees were transferred to the company’s administrative offices while the showroom was repaired.
Returning the store to work for the first time after the explosion, he said, was an eery experience.
“I was thinking too many things,” he told Doha News, pointing to where the wall the store shared with the restaurant was blown out. “I was (mentally) replaying what had happened … (and asking myself), ‘What if I had been upstairs with a customer, or using the bathroom (when the blast occurred)?’”
“(Being back at work) brought back everything. But the area is not like it was before. Now, it’s very quiet.”
When Doha News visited the plaza earlier this month, a slow trickle of cars passed by the still-shuttered petrol station. Steel drums blocked off vehicle access to the lanes between the pumps.
However, many businesses, including an auto service garage, a grocery store and an electronics shop were open for business, in contrast to the empty two-story concrete shell of the building that used to house the restaurant involved in the explosion.
All the units in that subdivided building have been completely gutted, save for metal staircases, electrical panels and some bathroom fixtures.
The most heavily damaged unit has been rebuilt, but the pile of sand, scattered cinderblocks and scraps of drywall on the bare floor offer no clues as to when the unit will reopen or how it will be used.
The plaza is owned by the FBA Group. A spokesperson for the company said he was unable to speak about the reconstruction process, when or if the gas station may reopen or what businesses would fill the rebuilt retail space.
Last year, an inquiry into the explosion found that a pizza oven inside the Istanbul Restaurant had not been properly turned off the previous night, allowing it to leak LPG. The gas then accumulated in the building and was ignited by the electrical current from the restaurant’s refrigerator.
Four men – two restaurant employees, a Woqod foreman and a supervisor for the Qatar Gas Group – are currently on trial for their alleged role in the incident.
All have pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter, involuntary/accidental harm and the damaging of property belonging to others. Their trial is ongoing.
In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, many residents bemoaned a perceived lax in safety standards and enforcement in Qatar.
Some suggested that the accident could have been many times worse had the fuel tanks beneath the nearby petrol station ignited.
Days after the incident, Civil Defense reminded eateries of existing regulations that prohibit cooking with gas in the vicinity of petrol stations, even shuttering some shops temporarily.
In response, several restaurants told Doha News that they were switching to electric stoves.
Meanwhile, several members of the Central Municipal Council repeated calls to separate petrol stations from commercial complexes and neighborhoods altogether. That recommendation does not appear to have received an official response.
For its part, Woqod – Qatar’s state-backed fuel company – ordered its delivery drivers to conduct more thorough inspections of their customers’ premises, a court hearing heard earlier this month.
The trial is expected resume on March 10. As part of the upcoming session, the injured victims of the explosion are once again expected to appear in court to present official reports documenting their medical treatment and disabilities suffered as a result of the blast.