The effort unfolded after the sniffer dog belonging to the Chilean search and rescue team first detected something as the team was going through Gemmayzeh Street in Beirut and rushed towards the rubble of a building. The street was one of the hardest-hit in the explosion on August 4.
The team then used audio detection equipment for signals of heartbeat, and detected what could be a pulse of 18 to 19 beats per minute. The origin of the pulsing signal was not immediately known but it set off a frantic search and raised new hope.
It is extremely unlikely that any survivors would be found a month after the blast that tore through Beirut in August when nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate ignited at the port. The explosion killed 191 people and injured 6,000 others and is considered to be one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded. Thousands of homes were damaged.
“99% there isn’t anything, but even if there is less than 1% hope, we should keep on looking,” said Youssef Malah, a civil defence worker. He said his men would continue working throughout the night, adding that the work was extremely sensitive.
A Chilean volunteer, however, said their equipment identifies breathing and heartbeat from humans, not animals, and it detected a sign of a human. The worker who identified himself as Francesco Lermonda said it is rare, but not unheard of, for someone to survive under the rubble for a month.
The past few weeks have been extremely hot in Lebanon, including a current heat wave with high levels of humidity.
As night fell, rescue workers set up light projectors to work through the darkness. The Lebanese Red Cross set up a tent nearby.
Every now and then, the Chilean team asked people on the streets, including a crowd of journalists watching the operation, to turn off their mobiles and stay quiet for five minutes so as not to interfere with the sounds being detected by their instruments.
Two days after the explosion, a French rescue team and Lebanese civil defence volunteers had looked into the rubble of the very same building, where the ground floor used to be a bar. At the time, they had no reason to believe there were any bodies or survivors left at the site.
In another chilling reminder of the horrific explosion a month ago, the Lebanese military said it discovered more than 4 tonnes of ammonium nitrate near Beirut’s port on Thursday.
According to the military, army experts were called in for an inspection and found 4.35 tonnes of the dangerous chemical in four containers stored near the port. There were no details on the origin of the chemicals or their owner.
The military statement said that customs officials had called in the army to inspect containers at a facility near the port, where they found 4.35 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. It said army experts were “dealing with the material”, an apparent reference that it was being destroyed.