Surgeon Andy Kent, based at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, flew to the Lebanese capital within days of the explosion which killed more than 200 and injured 6,000 more.
He told the Record how a career in the army, including both Gulf Wars, failed to prepare him for the sheer scale of the devastation and a health system on the point of collapse.
The 56-year-old married father-of-four said: “I did 17 years in the army but I don’t think any amount of training could prepare you for that volume of casualties in such a short space of time. The whole system was overwhelmed and in chaos.”
Working with charities UK Med and Humanity Inclusion, Andy will report back to the Department for International Development on what help is needed.
Hopping between overwhelmed hospitals and chatting to exhausted medics, he said: “The problem in Lebanon goes a lot deeper than this blast – prior to that the health system was teetering on the brink.
“Then of course it experienced a surge in coronavirus cases and so all all that is almost the perfect storm – with 6,000 casualties into the system, it’s completely broken.”
Covid cases have now topped 300-a-day for the first time with social distancing impossible in the blast’s immediate aftermath.
Andy said: “Covid was becoming a huge problem before the blast – now we’re anticipating a huge surge.
“The anticipation is that these numbers will sky rocket and the implications of that is that the medical services will be in dire straits.”
Many casualties will need long-term rehab after suffering slashed tendons and deep cuts to arms, legs and faces from flying glass.
Andy said: “The devastation is just horrendous – people were physically thrown by the blastwave against walls, against buildings.
“People were literally picked up and thrown across their living rooms.”
Yet he said the death toll would have been up to “100 times a higher” had the blast rocked the city before the port and neighbouring offices emptied at the end of the day.
With the explosion believed to have been caused by unsafely stored ammonium nitrate, civil unrest is making life harder with hospital visits disrupted by road blocks and demonstrations.
Andy also works on humanitarian response for the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and sits on the medical board of the Halo Trust mine clearing charity.
The day of the blast was the first day of his holiday at home in Inverness with wife and primary school teacher Jill, 55.
Andy said: “I’m very grateful to have a supportive wife and family and also my colleagues at Raigmore.”
The UK has pledged £20million to the World Food Programme and £5million to the emergency relief effort in Beirut.
International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “The Lebanese people continue to be in our thoughts at this terrible time.
“The UK is sending these world-leading medics to use their expertise and to make sure the people of Lebanon get the help they need as quickly as possible.
“This field team comes on top of the UK’s substantial military support and aid package. We will do everything we can to help the people of Lebanon in their hour of need.”