People throughout Lebanon on Friday marked one month since the devastating Beirut explosion that killed 191 people, while rescuers dug through the rubble of a building destroyed in the blast, hoping to find a survivor.
The search operation has gripped the nation for the past 24 hours.
The possibility, however unlikely, that a survivor could be found after one month gave hope to people who followed the effort on television, wishing for a miracle.
The operation began Thursday after a dog used by a Chilean search-and-rescue team detected something and rushed toward the rubble. Rescue workers used cranes, shovels and their bare hands in a meticulous search after a pulsing signal was detected.
Near the wreckage of Beirut’s port, a commemoration was held for the victims of the blast in the presence of some of their relatives.
Soldiers fired a salute, then laid a white rose for each of the 191 victims at a memorial. The crowd fell silent at 6:08 p.m., the moment of the most destructive explosion in Lebanon’s history.
The blast was caused by nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been improperly stored at the port for years.
In addition to the dead and injured, thousands of homes were damaged by the blast, which smashed windows and doors for miles around and was felt on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
It still isn’t clear what caused the fire that ignited the ammonium nitrate. The public blames the corruption and negligence of Lebanon’s politicians, security and judicial officials, many of whom knew about the storage of the chemicals and did nothing.
“We will hold you accountable,” one banner read.
At the search site, rescue workers slowly removed debris from the building.
The more they dug, the more careful they became to protect anyone buried there. Later, a camera at the end of a long pole was pushed into a hole in the building. Images did not turn up any trace of humans in that particular section.
On Thursday, the team used audio equipment to try to hear signals or a heartbeat and detected what could be a pulse of 18 to 19 beats per minute. The origin of the pulsing sound was not immediately known, but it was enough to set off the frantic search.
On Friday morning, the beats dropped to seven per minute, according to a Chilean volunteer.
The head of the Chilean team, Francisco Lermanda, said he could not confirm or deny the presence of a person — dead or alive — under the rubble and that the work would continue.
The Chilean group has been part of multiple international rescue efforts, including the earthquakes in 2010 in Chile and in 2017 in Mexico. It is credited with rescuing 14 people found after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, one of them 28 days after it struck.
“As far as I can understand from my Chilean colleagues, the search area is quite narrow,” a French civil engineer said. He added that the search area is not very deep.
“What we are searching for at the moment is likely one person” not under much material, he said.
The anger on the street was palpable, especially when the search was suspended briefly before midnight Thursday, apparently to find a crane.
Outraged protesters at the site claimed the Lebanese army had asked the Chileans to stop the search.
“Where’s your conscience? There’s life under this building and you want to stop the work until tomorrow?” one woman yelled.
Members of Lebanon’s Civil Defense team returned after midnight and resumed work.
The army issued a statement on Friday in response to the criticism, saying the Chilean team stopped work at 11:30 p.m. 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.
The Chilean team occasionally called for people on the streets to turn off their cellphones and be quiet for five minutes to avoid interfering with their instruments.
Two days after the explosion, a French rescue team and Lebanese civil defense volunteers had searched the same building. At the time, they had no reason to believe there was anyone still at the site.
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