Rescue teams in Beirut started digging into the bomb blast site on Friday September 4, to check for signs of life, 30 days after a massive explosion destroyed much of the city’s downtown coastal area.
The search operation comes after rescue teams detected movement deep within debris on Thursday. On August 4, a massive explosion tore through Beirut’s port killing 190 people, injuring more than 6,000, and leaving more than 300,000 displaced from their homes.
The blast was linked to nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate which had been stored at Beirut’s port for six years.
George Abu Musa, operations head at the Lebanese Civil Defense, revealed on Friday that the operation was “less than half a meter” away from a possible survivor’s location.
Rescuers worked under floodlights in humid summer conditions to remove portions of a wall with a crane as a crowd stood by, anxious for updates.
According to Eddy Bitar co-founder of Live Love Beirut, an NGO helping with rescue efforts, thermal imaging carried out on Friday morning local time showed body heat in the rubble, while rescuers also detected eight breaths per minute amid the debris.
According to rescuers, the teams heard 18 breaths per minute under the rubble after asking a crowd of about 200 onlookers to be silent so their equipment could better detect any breath or heartbeats of a possible survivor.
The search was sparked by a rescue dog that passed the destroyed building with a Chilean rescue team on Thursday and indicated signs of life, said Eddy Bitar, a local non-governmental organization worker.
Thermal imaging later showed two bodies — one small body curled up next to a larger body. A listening device also registered a respiratory cycle of 18 per minute, Bitar said.
“There’s a small chance that the person is still alive,” Bitar said.
Thursday’s rescue search was temporarily suspended over concerns that a wall could collapse and endanger the lives of the rescue team, Beirut fire brigade officer Lieutenant Michel El-Mur said.
After the search was suspended on Thursday night, local time, a protest of around 100 people erupted outside the site.
Tension continued to grow by protesters until soldiers told them that the team and its equipment would be returning to the site imminently.
Reports from the blast area say a strong, putrid smell emanated from the destroyed building in the aftermath of the blast. One woman said she repeatedly alerted authorities about it and urged them to search the site.
“Two weeks ago we were protesting here and we smelled what felt like ‘old blood’,” said Reine Abbas to CNN.
“If they had checked back then, then the body would probably be alive today.”“But this is Lebanon.”