Disasters & Accidents

Recovery workers find possible signs of life under Beirut blast ruins

Beirut, Sep 3 (efe-epa).- A Chilean rescue and recovery team on Thursday launched a joint operation with Lebanese security forces after finding “possible” signs of life underneath the rubble of a collapsed building in central Beirut a month after the enormous explosion at the port that leveled a good part of the city.

Francisco Lermanda, the head of the Topos Chile rescue team, told EFE that Flash, the team’s rescue dog, had on two separate occasions directed rescuers “to the same spot and at the same distance (where) we thought” there were two bodies underneath the ruins.

Although one of the bodies is thought to be lifeless, the other – which is evidently located with the corpse, is giving signs of life – specifically, 18 heartbeats per minute – Edouard Bitar, a member of the Live Love Lebanon non-governmental organization, who is helping the Chilean rescue team, told the media at the scene.

Lermanda said that no machinery can be brought into the area in case there is a person alive under the rubble.

“We cannot put in machines, we can’t … do anything that could risk the life of this possible (living) person,” he said.

During what has become a rescue operation, the Chilean team called for silence in the vicinity and for journalists and other teams nearby to turn off their mobile phones so as not to interfere with their work to try and detect sounds from underground, EFE learned.

Lermanda, who has worked on numerous operations after tragedies with Topos Chile, said that they were going through the area “by chance” and the dog scrambled into the ruins and focused on a certain spot, where the team immediately made a temperature and sound scan, detecting an apparent signal that a living person could be under the rubble.

The head of the Chilean team said that, if there is a person alive in there, it could be a baby “because of the way” the signals look, adding that – according to preliminary indications – the child could have fallen from the third floor of the now-collapsed building into the ruins of the second floor in the Mar Mikhael and Gemmayze neighborhood, one of the zones most heavily damaged on Aug. 4 when some 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate warehoused at the port blew up, killing at least 190 people, injuring some 6,500 and leaving approximately 300,000 homeless.

He said that he and his crew do not know how long the rescue operation could last but he added that they will not leave the site until they rule out or confirm that there is a living person under the ruins.

Lermanda added that “hope never dies” despite the fact that a month has gone by since the gigantic blast, noting that – after the huge 2010 earthquake in Haiti – rescue workers found a person alive under the rubble “28 days later.”

Since the Beirut blast, the ruins of the building where the possible signs of life were detected have not been excavated or disturbed.

According to local authorities, there are only three people who remain missing after the blast.

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