Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 October 2020

Hunt for survivor one month after Beirut blast continues

The August 4 explosion killed 191 people, making it Lebanon's deadliest peacetime disaster

Rescuers resumed a search on Saturday for a possible survivor under the rubble in Beirut, buoyed by faint hopes of a miracle a month after an explosion in the city's port.

The August 4 blast killed 191 people, making it Lebanon's deadliest peacetime disaster.

One month on, Lebanese across the grieving country observed a minute of silence on Friday, while seven people are still missing.

Hopes emerged Thursday that one could be found alive after a specialist sensor device detected a heartbeat under the debris of a collapsed building.

"I was not aware I needed a miracle that much. Please God, give Beirut this miracle it deserves," said Selim Mourad, a 32-year-old filmmaker.

Chilean and Lebanese rescuers on Friday lifted rubble from the site between the hard-hit districts of Gemmayzeh and Mar Mikhail.

Francisco Lermanda, the head of the Chilean team, told reporters late Friday that the rescue work was launched after experts detected slow breathing under the rubble at a depth of three metres (yards).

But it was still unclear if anyone was "alive or dead", Lermanda said.

"We had to dig three tunnels to reach the spot where the pulse was detected," he added.

A member of the Lebanese civil defence at the site said the operation could be halted in the evening and resume on Saturday morning.

The pulse had slowed significantly on Friday compared to a previous recording, rescue coordinator Nicholas Saade said earlier in the day.

"After removing the big chunks, we scanned again for heartbeats or respiration, it showed low beat/respiration" levels of seven per minute, he said. "The reading before was about 16 to 18."

French civil engineer Emmanuel Durand, who is assisting the rescue effort, said 3D mapping scans of the building had so far shown no signs of life.

"What we have seen so far is, unfortunately, no trace of any victim or body. We have been conducting two scans on two different rooms," he said.

The area being excavated was among the hardest hit by the blast that was so powerful it was heard in Cyprus, some 240 kilometres (150 miles) away.

The explosion piled on new misery for Lebanese reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and the country's worst economic crisis in decades.

A sniffer dog deployed by Chilean rescuers responded Wednesday night to a scent from the site, Beirut governor Marwan Abboud said.

After detecting a pulse on Thursday, Lebanese rescuers teamed up with the Chileans to find survivors.

Lebanon lacks the tools and expertise to handle advanced search and rescue operations, which are now being supported by international experts.

The Chileans, who arrived recently with specialist sensors that can detect heartbeats and breathing, have been praised as heroes by many Lebanese.

Lebanese authorities came under more fire from an anxious public after Thursday's search and rescue operation was paused for two hours.

The army issued a statement Friday in response to the criticism, saying the Chilean team stopped work at 11.30pm because it feared a wall might collapse. It added that army experts inspected the site and two cranes were brought in to remove the wall, after which the search resumed.

The stoppage sparked an outcry online.

"There is a heart beating in Mar Mikhail, and there are heartless officials who decided to stop the rescue operation," activist Zahia Awad tweeted.

As well as killing more than 190 people, the explosion injured at least 6,500 and left 300,000 homeless.

Hassan Diab, who quit along with his government after the blast, said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate had blown up. The fertiliser had been stored in a warehouse for years without precautions.

Several gatherings organised by the army, civil society groups and families of the victims were held on Friday to mark one month since the blast, with many taking part in a minute of silence.

Updated: September 5, 2020 07:41 PM

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