Rescue workers used cranes, a bulldozer and their bare hands in searches that restarted early Friday amid the rubble of a building that collapsed last month in a catastrophic explosion in Beirut, hoping to find a survivor after spotting a pulsating signal.
The search took place a month after the August 4 blast killed 191 people and injured 6,000 others and sent a psychological shock to Lebanon, which was already suffering from a severe economic crisis and financial meltdown. A protest march, as well as a moment of silence, began at 6:08 pm, the moment that represents the most destructive incident in the history of Lebanon, a month ago.
The search taking place in Beirut’s historic district of Gemmayzeh on a street littered with bars and crowded restaurants has captured the nation for the past 24 hours. The idea of finding a survivor a month later, albeit unlikely, gave hope to people who watched the news on TV, wanting a miracle.
The searches began for the first time on Thursday afternoon after a police dog belonging to a Chilean search-and-rescue team called TOPOS discovered something while the team was touring Gemmayze and rushed to the ruins. Pictures of a 5-year-old black and white dog named Flash have sprung up on social media with people calling him a hero.
“As far as I can understand from my Chilean colleagues, the search area is very narrow,” said a French civil engineer who identified himself only as Emmanuel. He added that the search area is not very deep and is above the basement of the ground floor.
“What we’re looking for at the moment is probably one person” not under a lot of materials, he said, adding that they are using a large suction machine, excavators and more rescue workers.
After hours of searching, work was suspended briefly before midnight, apparently looking for a crane. This sparked anger among the protesters
Ninety-nine percent is nothing, but even if there is less than 1 percent hope, we must keep looking.– Civil defense worker
They arrived at the scene, claiming that the Lebanese army had asked the Chilean team to stop the search. In a reflection of the startling division and people’s lack of confidence in the authorities, some protesters wore helmets and began searching the rubble themselves while others demanded cranes.
The Lebanese civil defense team returned an hour after midnight and resumed work.
The army issued a statement Friday in response to the criticism, saying that the Chilean team had stopped work shortly before midnight for fear of a wall collapsing on them. She added that military experts searched the site, two cranes were brought in to remove the wall, and searches were resumed on its impact.
The head of the Chilean rescue team said he could not confirm if someone was alive under the rubble a month after #beirutblast But search efforts are continuing. #Beat_beirut #lebanon < a href = "https://t.co/qcmua1gpO9"> pic.twitter.com/qcmua1gpO9
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Friday morning, rescue workers were removing debris with their hands and slowly shovels, digging a hole in the building’s rubble. The more they dig, the more careful work is to protect any potential survivor under the rubble. Later, they brought in a 360-degree camera placed at the end of a long stick and pushed it into a hole in the building.
On Thursday, the team used acoustic detection equipment for signals or heartbeats and discovered what could be a pulse of 18 to 19 beats per minute. The origin of the pulsating signal was not immediately known, but it was enough to trigger a frantic search and spark new hope.
On Friday morning, the pulse dropped to seven per minute, according to statements made by a Chilean volunteer for the local New TV station.
However, it was extremely unlikely to find any survivors a month after the August explosion that tore Beirut apart when nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate ignited in the port. In addition to the deadly toll and dozens of wounded, thousands of homes were damaged.
Youssef Mallah, a civil defense worker, said Thursday: “Ninety-nine percent there is nothing, but even if the hope is less than 1 percent, we have to continue searching.” He said the work is very sensitive.
However, a Chilean volunteer said their equipment determined the breathing and heartbeat of humans, not animals, and had detected a sign of a human being. The worker, who identified himself as Francisco Lermanda, said it is rare, but not unknown, for someone to live under the rubble for a month.
The last few weeks have been very hot in Lebanon, including the current heat wave with high levels of humidity.
Every now and then, the Chilean team asked people on the streets, including a crowd of journalists who were watching the operation, to turn off their cell phones and be silent for five minutes so that they did not interfere with the sounds their machines revealed.
Two days after the explosion, a French rescue team and Lebanese civil defense volunteers examined the debris of the building itself, as the ground floor was a bar. At the time, they had no reason to believe that there were any corpses or survivors at the site.
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