Rescue Workers Resume Hunt For Possible Survivor Buried Under Beirut Blast Rubble One Month After

Rescue workers on Friday resumed the hunt for a possible survivor buried under rubble in Beirut, one month on from the massive explosion that destroyed swathes of the Lebanese capital.

Specialist equipment has detected what could be the slow pulse of someone alive underneath a destroyed home in the Gemmayze area on Thursday afternoon.

Picking delicately through the mounds of unstable rubble, rescue teams restarted work in the small hours of Friday morning to try to find what the gathered crowds hope is an unlikely survivor.

A volunteer Chilean team, who first discovered the potential signs of life, once again deployed their sensors to try and pinpoint the exact location of the apparent heartbeat, periodically urging all onlookers to switch off their phones and keep quiet.

Volunteers helping the rescue effort told The Independent the latest test had shown that the “pulse" detected had slowed to two to three beats per minute as the teams were still digging through the last 30 cm of rubble to get to where they believe a survivor or a body may be.

They continued to lift heavy objects via a crane from the roof of the collapsed structure and used a machine to remove dust to improve visibility.

Speaking to The Independent at the scene, Michel el-Murr, the head of the Lebanese fire department’s search and rescue crew, said despite being so close, the precariousness of the building meant they could still be some time away from finding anything.

“The building is still very unstable, and we don’t want to lose any more men than we already have,” he said.

“We have managed to remove the larger parts of the building that had collapsed on this area, but the teams are working very slowly moving piece by piece.”

He said it was unlikely that anyone would have been able to survive a whole month trapped under the fallen masonry in the searing heat of summer.

“But as always, even if we have a 0.001 per cent chance we will keep looking,” he added.

Qassem Khatar from the Lebanese civil defense told The Independent the heart beat was coming from what they believe to be a body that is trapped under another body in the centre of the collapsed building.

A sniffer dog belonging to the Chilean volunteer team is credited with first detecting something in the area.

Thermal imaging then seemed to pick up two bodies, one slightly smaller and curled up, the latter of which was thought to be showing signs of life.

Speaking on Thursday, Edward Bitar of charity Live Love Beirut said: “We do believe there is a small person inside, that might be a child that is curled up. We are just making sure what is there and taking all the steps to find out.

“It’s on the first floor, but the second and third floors have collapsed on top. We are doing everything possible, it’s not easy — we have the problem of public safety. At any second the building could collapse. So, we need to work with a small team without heavy equipment”.

Rescue efforts were briefly paused overnight when the army declared the building to be too structurally unsound - and said they would have to restart in the morning as they lacked a crane.

Furious at the delay, volunteers from local charity Base Camp, which has been managing much of the clean up of Beirut, ended up sourcing and paying for the crane in the middle of the night.

“We are a people without a government - it is us and other associations who are taking over the work of the government at the moment,” said Melissa, one of the volunteers involved in getting the crane.

“It’s unbelievable what happened last night - citizens paid for the other citizens to be rescued,” she said. “Time is the biggest thing against us right now,” she added.

The 4 August blast, which killed 191 people and injured over 6,500 others in one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, is thought to have been caused by thousands of tonnes of poorly-stored ammonium nitrate catching fire at Beirut’s city-centre port.

It damaged tens of thousands of homes and caused billions of dollars worth of damage, with windows shattering up to 18 miles from the epicentre.

Protests erupted after it emerged that the authorities, including port officials, the security forces, the president and the prime minister had been warned about the dangerous stockpile of explosive materials at the port but apparently did nothing about it.

The entire cabinet resigned over the disaster, and over its mishandling of an unprecedented financial crisis that the country is also limping through.

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