Hopes have been raised that a survivor could miraculously be found amid the rubble in Beirut, after a pulsing signal was detected a month after the massive explosion in the Lebanese capital.
The signal came from beneath a building that collapsed in one of the areas hardest-hit by the August 4 explosion.
It comes as the Lebanese military discovered more than four tons of ammonium nitrate near Beirut’s port – the same substance blamed for the blast that killed 191 people, wounded thousands and left countless homeless.
Efforts to find a survivor unfolded after a 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 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.
Experts say it is extremely unlikely that any survivors would be found a month after the blast that tore through Beirut, when nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate ignited at the port.
The explosion, which injured 6,000 people, is considered to be one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded. Thousands of homes were damaged.
Youssef Malah, a civil defence worker, said: ’99% there isn’t anything, but even if there is less than 1% hope, we should keep on looking.’
He said his men would continue working throughout the night, adding that the work was extremely sensitive.
But a Chilean volunteer 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.
Meanwhile, 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 the ammonium nitrate.
It said army experts were ‘dealing with the material’, an apparent reference that it was being destroyed.
Days after the blast, French and Italian chemical experts working amid the remains of the port identified more than 20 containers carrying dangerous chemicals.
So far, authorities have detained 25 people over last month’s explosion, most of them port and customs officials.
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