Rescuers End Search for Possible Beirut Explosion Survivor

BEIRUT—The search for a possible survivor of the Beirut port explosion was ended Sunday after more than three days of combing through the rubble of a collapsed building by a Chilean rescue team.

A sniffer dog first alerted members of the 14-person team that someone might be under the rubble of the building and a life sensor and thermal camera indicated breathing, which led to the search.

A day before it was called off, hope had all but faded that someone would be found alive a month after the blast. Based on the life sensor, rescuers expected that there could be one or two dead bodies under the rubble, as several people still remain unaccounted for after the deadly explosion on Aug. 4.

“They exhausted all options, they looked everywhere, they emptied the entire building, they looked in the shop, they looked behind the building,” said Melissa Fathallah, the founder of Baytna Baytak, a grass-roots Lebanese aid group, which has been assisting the Chilean team leading the search with logistics and equipment.

“There’s some sort of water running underneath and the machine is so sensitive that it actually picked up on the recycling of the water and it seemed to them that it was someone breathing,” Ms. Fathallah said.

The search, which began Thursday morning, transfixed a nation desperate for a glimmer of optimism after the explosion, which killed at least 190 people, injured thousands and displaced many more from devastated neighborhoods. For many Lebanese it also underscored the failings of their own government that a foreign rescue team was stepping up in a way that Lebanon’s own institutions haven’t in the wake of the blast.

The Lebanese army said it would suspend the search of the building overnight Thursday because it needed to wait until morning for a crane, activists at the site said. Instead, the activists secured and paid for a crane themselves so the search could resume.

The explosion was caused by a fire that ignited some 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been abandoned in a warehouse nearly seven years ago. On Thursday, the Lebanese army said it found another four tons of ammonium nitrate near Beirut’s port, which abuts the capital’s business district.

Since the explosion, ordinary Lebanese and grass-roots organizations have stepped up to deliver food and other aid, inspect and rebuild homes and provide shelters. They have filled the vacuum left by state institutions, which have been criticized for years of neglect before the blast and inadequate assistance since.

Write to Raja Abdulrahim at raja.abdulrahim@wsj.com

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[Source : The Wall Street Journal]

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