New Zealander Lorna Butler was due to take the family cat to the vet, in downtown Beirut, about the same time a devastating explosion ripped through the city.

But as fate would have it, she would be saved because her husband was late getting back home with the car - stuck in traffic.

Butler, originally from Dunedin, said her husband, Maroun Sfeir, had gone into Beirut to visit the Australian embassy as part of the process to get a special transit visa to Australia - to help in the family's bid to get to New Zealand.

But for some reason, on that particular day, the office was closed.

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Speaking to the Herald, she said it was fate that had possibly saved both their lives.

"We're alive. It was a close call.

"[The Australian embassy] is always open - always. But on this day, they were closed. He got back late because of traffic."

The aftermath of this week's deadly explosion in Beirut. Photo / Lorna Butler
The aftermath of this week's deadly explosion in Beirut. Photo / Lorna Butler
Lorna Butler with her husband Maroun Sfeir and 4-year-old Enzo. Photo / Supplied
Lorna Butler with her husband Maroun Sfeir and 4-year-old Enzo. Photo / Supplied

'I was expecting the sky to open up'

The family would hear, feel and then see the explosion from the safety of their home on top of a mountain in the town of Ajaltoun.

"We were just sitting outside when we heard this almighty boom - just this 'whoosh'. It just transcended...and there was something of a gravitational pull through your body."

A drone picture shows the scene of an explosion at the seaport of Beirut, in Lebanon, earlier this week. AP Photo / Hussein Malla
A drone picture shows the scene of an explosion at the seaport of Beirut, in Lebanon, earlier this week. AP Photo / Hussein Malla
Lorna Butler stands in what is left of a home in Beirut after the explosion on Tuesday, local time. Photo / Supplied
Lorna Butler stands in what is left of a home in Beirut after the explosion on Tuesday, local time. Photo / Supplied

Butler described the feeling of fear that suddenly came over her and catching herself saying out loud, over and over, that "it's a bomb".

Family members around her quickly spoke over saying it was "just fireworks" in a bid to not scare her 4-year-old son Enzo.

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"I said: 'Enzo, get inside'! I was expecting the sky to open up and to see missiles."

The blast death toll has risen to 135 and up to 5000 injured, but both figures are expected to rise still.

'People are used to walking on rubble in this country'

Two days after the explosion, Butler and her husband decided to head into the city after hearing locals were going there to help clean up.

"I wanted to be a part of that. I went down there and took a broom with me," she said.

But when they got there, many buildings were so badly damaged that her husband - an architect - knew they would need to be demolished.

"I just put my broom back in the car."

She described the scenes around her like something only seen in a movie.

She even tried to find the veterinary building where she was meant to be on that fateful day.

"I couldn't find it. It's weird - I was asking myself: 'Would I have survived'?"

Despite all the rubble and broken buildings surrounding them, however, people were out in force working to clean up the mess left behind.

"The Lebanese people know this war-torn city. They're used to this - people are used to walking on rubble in this country."

The aftermath of the deadly explosion in Beirut. Photo / Lorna Butler
The aftermath of the deadly explosion in Beirut. Photo / Lorna Butler

Butler and her husband are now working harder than ever to try to get to New Zealand, where they hope to set up a new life - one that also allows them to be closer to Butler's elderly father, who has some health worries.

Butler, a make-up artist, said she hoped to secure work quickly; but just wanted to get to the safety of home as soon as possible.

"People there don't know how lucky you are. We have power cuts nearly every day and sometimes we don't have water.

"My husband loves New Zealand and says the first thing he will do when we get off the plane is kiss the ground."

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