BEIRUT, LEBANON – A month after the explosion of a port warehouse in Beirut, a Chilean rescue team is investigating possible signs of life under the rubble. After their sensors detected what could be a pulse, the team is now digging through the debris.
On Sept. 1, a Chilean rescue team arrived in Beirut, almost a month after the massive explosion there. The very next day, one of the team’s sniffer dogs signaled that there was someone alive beneath a collapsed building. The group then used a scanner and detected what they interpreted to be a possible heartbeat. The team has now split into groups to move the debris piece by piece to avoid further injury to anyone trapped alive below.
The group is part of Topos Chile (Chile Moles), a nonprofit dedicated to humanitarian aid. The team has worked on several rescue missions, including the 2010 and 2015 earthquakes in Chile, and the 2017 earthquake in Mexico. They also helped in the historic rescue of 33 miners in Chile in 2010.
Francisco Lermanda, a member of the team, told CNN that the equipment detected breathing and a pulse, and that these results combined with the dog’s signal warranted further, intense investigation. “This means we have to make tunnels to penetrate the structure, get to the [source of the signals], and discard or confirm the presence of a living person.”
The rescuer said that they believe the possible survivor is 2.4 meters deep under the rubble and 1.8 meters from the side of the building. He added that the team is digging three separate tunnels so that they have more options for performing a rescue if they reach a survivor.
— Matt Kynaston (@MattKynaston) September 3, 2020
Lermanda also explained that they have to be especially careful in the digging. “We cannot get machinery inside, press, hit, or do anything that could endanger the living person. It is very slow, meticulous, and technical work,” he said. Lermanda added they do not know how long the digging will take. They have been searching all night.
Firefighters, army services, and volunteers have joined the rescue team. A crowd has also gathered around the place to oversee the process, waiting to learn whether there is life under the rubble. The team periodically asks bystanders to remain silent so that they can listen for any signs of breathing from under the rubble.
The Chilean rescuers have said that even though they cannot be sure they are pursuing a survivor, they will assume that is the case until they prove otherwise. Lermanda said that the longest he has seen a person survive under a pile of rubble is in Haiti, where a person was rescued 28 days after the collapse of a building.
The full cause of the explosion on Aug. 4 is still being investigated, but it included the detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in a port warehouse. The blast killed more than 200 people and damaged thousands of homes. Thereafter, protests spread throughout the country and, a week later, the government announced the whole cabinet’s resignation.
Meet Flash, the rescue dog from Chile that detected signs of life under the debris of a collapsed building in Beirut. The search continues.
This city needs a miracle 30 days after the explosion that shattered so many lives.#Beirut #Lebanon
📷 Jospeh Eid/AFP pic.twitter.com/M4rmnOYK2h
— Asieh Namdar (@asiehnamdar) September 4, 2020
María José Hepp is currently finishing her Journalism degree at Pontificia Universidad Católica. Living- hearing- and telling stories is her passion. Main interests are international relations, culture, and human rights.