Hunt for survivor one month after Beirut blast continues

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - 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 a monster blast ripped through the city's port.

The cataclysmic August 4 explosion 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 of them 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).

Onlookers gather as rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon's capital Beirut in search of possible survivors from a mega-blast at the adjacent port one month ago. AFP

A Chilean rescue worker holds a sniffer dog Flash by the paw as others dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon's capital Beirut. AFP

Onlookers gather as rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon's capital Beirut in search of possible survivors from a mega-blast at the adjacent port one month ago. AFP

Onlookers gather as rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon's capital Beirut in search of possible survivors from a mega-blast at the adjacent port one month ago. AFP

Onlookers gather as rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon's capital Beirut in search of possible survivors from a mega-blast at the adjacent port one month ago. EPA

Onlookers gather as rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon's capital Beirut in search of possible survivors from a mega-blast at the adjacent port one month ago. AFP

Onlookers gather as rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon's capital Beirut in search of possible survivors from a mega-blast at the adjacent port one month ago. AFP

Onlookers gather as rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon's capital Beirut in search of possible survivors from a mega-blast at the adjacent port one month ago. AFP

Rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon's capital Beirut in search of possible survivors from a mega-blast at the adjacent port one month ago. Reuters

Rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon's capital Beirut in search of possible survivors from a mega-blast at the adjacent port one month ago. AFP

Rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon's capital Beirut in search of possible survivors from a mega-blast at the adjacent port one month ago. AFP

Rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon's capital Beirut in search of possible survivors from a mega-blast at the adjacent port one month ago. Reuters

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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 already 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.

A woman, draped in a black-striped Lebanese flag, looks at the site of the massive explosion at Beirut's port area, during a demonstration to mark one month since the cataclysmic August 4 explosion that killed 191 people, in the Lebanese capital Beirut. AFP

A woman holds a noose as she observes a minute of silence to mark one month since the massive explosion at Beirut's port area. Reuters

Families of Beirut port explosion victims carry their pictures during a minute of silence and prayer to mark one month of Beirut port explosion. EPA

Families of Beirut port explosion victims carry their pictures during a minute of silence and prayer to mark one month of Beirut port explosion. EPA

Protesters carry torches and hangman noose as they demand the punishment of those responsible for the port explosion during a moment of silence to mark one month of Beirut port explosion. EPA

Firefighters hold a flag as they commemorate a month since Beirut's deadly explosion. Getty Images

Protesters wave a Lebanese flag and hold nooses, which have become symbols of public anger against the Lebanese government, as they commemorate a month since the city's deadly explosion. Getty Images

Protesters hold torches and nooses as they commemorate a month since the city's deadly explosion. Getty Images

Paper lanterns in the shape of a Lebanese flag mark one month since the city's deadly explosion. Getty Images

A woman sings on a pile of rubble near paper lanterns arranged in the shape of a Lebanese flag to mark one month since the city's deadly explosion. Getty Images

Families of Beirut port explosion victims carry their pictures during a minute of silence and prayer to mark one month of Beirut port explosion. EPA

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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 12:25 PM

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