Beirut blast miracle rescue hopes snuffed out

AFP , Sunday 6 Sep 2020

Rubble and debris are seen around the silo that was destroyed by last month's massive explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2020. AP

Faint hopes of a miracle rescue from the rubble of the Lebanese capital's catastrophic August 4 explosion were snuffed out Sunday as a civil defence chief announced the search had been in vain.

"There's nothing more," after an exhaustive search that lasted three days, George Abou Moussa, Lebanon's civil defence operations chief, told AFP. "There was nobody alive and there were no dead."

Rescue workers already said Saturday there was no longer any sign of life, dashing hopes raised by sensor readings of an apparent pulse from under a building that collapsed in last month's blast.

The cataclysmic explosion in the port of Beirut killed at least 191 people, making it Lebanon's deadliest peacetime disaster.

Seven people are still listed as missing.

On Wednesday night, a sniffer dog deployed by Chilean rescuers detected a scent under rubble in the heavily damaged Gemmayzeh neighbourhood next to the port.

High-tech sensors confirmed the apparent heartbeat and rescue teams took up the search.

Two female rescue workers on Saturday slipped through a final tunnel to check for any victim in the last air pocket but found nobody.

Engineer Riyadh al-Assad said the workers had cleared two layers of rubble and reached a stairway, but again they found no-one.

Lebanese officials had played down the chances of anyone surviving so long beneath the rubble.

But even the faint hope had caught the imagination of a country already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and the country's worst economic crisis in decades.

Lebanon lacks the tools and expertise to handle advanced search and rescue operations, so they have been supported by experts from Chile, France and the United States.

The area of the final search for a survivor was among the hardest hit by the blast that was so powerful it was heard in Cyprus, some 240 kilometres (150 miles) away.

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