Beirut explosion: 'No life inside of building' after dayslong search

Equipment was thought to have detected heartbeats and "strong breathing."

September 5, 2020, 5:01 PM

BEIRUT -- A Chilean search team has come up empty after a desperate search inside of a collapsed building in the Gemmayze neighborhood of Beirut, one month after an Aug. 4 blast leveled the entire area surrounding the city's port.

Beirut inhabitants held their breaths after signs of life were again detected in the rubble on Saturday morning. But the search team relayed the disappointing news of its lack of success late Saturday.

"Unfortunately, today, we can say that there's no life inside of the building," the head of the team, Francisco Lermanda, said at a press conference. "Despite that, the protocols must continue for leaving the whole zone secure inside and outside. ... We want to tell you that we want to continue with our protocols so we can dismiss the presence of anybody inside the building. Today we made the last action."

"We made a tunnel going down and our two women rescue [workers] went down due to their expertise and size so we can dismiss finally that there was no body inside," the rescuer added.

PHOTO: Francisco Lermanda, head of the Chilean rescue team looking for life inside a collapsed building in Beirut, and Claudia, a Chilean rescue team member, were applauded for their effort despite coming up empty in the search.
Francisco Lermanda, head of the Chilean rescue team looking for life inside a collapsed building in Beirut, and Claudia, a Chilean rescue team member, were applauded for their effort despite coming up empty in the search.
ABC News

The team said it would continue to sift through rubble on the sidewalk for three to four hours.

The rescue team was first alerted to someone possibly inside the building on Thursday by their dog, Flash, who is trained to detect humans.

PHOTO: Volunteers and a member of the Chilean rescue team dig through the rubble of buildings which collapsed due to the explosion at the port area, after signs of life were detected, in Gemmayze, Beirut, Lebanon September 5, 2020.
Volunteers and a member of the Chilean rescue team dig through the rubble of buildings which collapsed due to the explosion at the port area, after signs of life were detected, in Gemmayze, Beirut, Lebanon September 5, 2020.
Mohamed Azakir/Reuters

A machine detected a heartbeat around 17 beats per minutes coming from a staircase between the building and a neighboring store, Lebanese Civil Defense told ABC News.

After a second day of search, the teams decided to leave the site on Friday evening and wait for the frequencies of cellphones to die down as people evacuated the area.

When they tested the machine again on Saturday morning, they detected a strong heartbeat and strong breathing.

However, search-and-rescue teams that were focusing their efforts on the staircase finished clearing the area by 2 p.m local time in the afternoon, without finding anything. They then moved on to searching a collapsed roof area.

PHOTO: Rescuers search at the site of a collapsed building after getting signals there may be a survivor under the rubble, in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.
Rescuers search at the site of a collapsed building after getting signals there may be a survivor under the rubble, in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. A pulsing signal was detected Thursday from under the rubble of a Beirut building that collapsed during the horrific port explosion in the Lebanese capital last month, raising hopes there may be a survivor still buried there.
Hassan Ammar/AP

Riad Al Assad, the engineer overseeing the site for the Lebanese Civil Defense, said all areas where the machines picked up signs of life have now been cleared: "The machines, the dog and the thermal cameras have always indicated [the] first roof, second roof [and] stairways."

"Third roof we had nothing there. Nevertheless, we’ll go to the extreme of our capabilities and remove the third [roof]," Al Assad said.

Parts of the city are still being cleared of rubble and glass after 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded at the port of Beirut, causing a shock wave that damaged swaths of the Lebanese capital and killed at least 180 people.

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