Rescuers detect heartbeat under rubble a month after Beirut blast

Rescue teams in Beirut were hunting through the rubble on Friday after signs of life were detected 30 days after a massive explosion destroyed much of the city’s downtown coastal area.

A pulse signal is still being detected in the ruins in the Mar Mikhael area of the Lebanese capital. Rescuers traced what they believed to be a heartbeat signal to locations under the debris, but no survivors were found.

“We did not find anybody at the location where the machine detected,” said one volunteer with the civil defense Qasem Khater.

However, another volunteer Mansour Al Asmat, said rescuers had detected a heartbeat signal at another location under the rubble.

“The more obstacles we remove, the more the signal of the machine gives a closer sign [of] the exact area,” he said.

Civil defense volunteers remain in place, but warned that the search operation needed to come to an end.

Asmat said rescuers remained 100% certain there was a body underneath the rubble but that the person might “not necessarily” be alive.

“We’re depending on the machine and the dog.” Asmat added that there was a slight chance that the machine could be detecting something else, such as a watch, instead of a heartbeat

Search teams swarmed to the site, a neighborhood near the epicenter of last month’s blast, on Thursday after rescue teams detected movement deep within debris.

Rescuers worked under floodlights in humid summer conditions to remove portions of a wall with a crane as a crowd stood by, anxious for updates.

On Friday morning local time, thermal imaging showed body heat in the rubble, while rescuers also detected eight breaths per minute amid the debris

Rescuers asked a crowd of about 200 onlookers to be silent so their equipment could better detect any breath or heartbeats of a possible survivor. Members of the crowd switched off their phones as they awaited news.

The search was sparked by a rescue dog that passed the destroyed building with a Chilean rescue team on Thursday and indicated signs of life, said Eddy Bitar, a local non-governmental organization worker.

Thermal imaging later showed two bodies — one small body curled up next to a larger body. A listening device also registered a respiratory cycle of 18 per minute, Bitar said.

“There’s a small chance that the person is still alive,” Bitar said.

The explosion tore through Beirut’s port on August 4, killing 190 people, injuring more than 6,000, and leaving more than 300,000 displaced from their homes.

It was linked to nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate which had been stored at Beirut’s port for six years. Ammonium nitrate is a highly volatile material used in agricultural fertilizers and explosives.

After the explosion, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab said it was “unacceptable” that the shipment of ammonium nitrate had been stored in a warehouse on Beirut’s port for six years.