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Rescue Dog and Hopes of a Miracle Captivate Ravaged Beirut

2020-09-04 14:17:47

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The sudden glimmer of hope in a devastated Beirut neighborhood came from a dog named Flash with a shaggy black coat, a white snout and red bootees to protect his paws from shattered glass.

One month after a massive explosion in Beirut’s port killed 190 people and ravaged the Lebanese capital, the dog smelled something in the rubble of a destroyed historic building, and his Chilean rescue team deployed a sensor that picked up a slow pulse underneath that could have been a heartbeat.

In the hours since the dog’s discovery Thursday evening, the Lebanese have been glued to their televisions, watching live coverage of rescue crews in yellow vests sifting through debris and wondering if, after a string of bruising traumas, they dared hope for a miracle.

Had someone survived under the rubble all this time?

The explosion, caused by the combustion of thousands of tons of hazardous chemicals stored improperly in the Beirut port since 2014, was the most recent in a series of crises that have fueled deep anger at the country’s political elite over decades of mismanagement and corruption.

Since last fall, the economy has been in free fall, the currency has been shedding value and frequent anti-government protests have trashed much of downtown. Many Lebanese are furious that their leaders let the country deteriorate to this point, and that the politicians have failed to take any meaningful steps.

That anger was tangible on Friday among residents and volunteers who gathered near the collapsed historic building to await updates on the search and felt that the government not only had failed to prevent the blast, but to properly help people in the aftermath.

“What can we say other than shame on the government?” said Nour Hassan, a university student who came to the site with a volunteer cleaning crew. “This is so upsetting.”

She wondered, how could there even be a question of whether anyone remained under the rubble from the Aug. 4 explosion?

“The state should have verified all this,” she said. “Now we don’t know if there are other bodies in other buildings, alive or dead.”

It appeared extremely unlikely that anyone had survived under the rubble for a month, especially since daily temperatures in Beirut have been sweltering, with high humidity.

Francesco Lermonda, a Chilean volunteer, told the The Associated Press that his team’s equipment identified breathing and heartbeats from humans, not animals. He said it was rare, but not unheard-of, for someone to survive in such conditions for a month.

Tensions flared overnight Thursday when volunteers accused the Lebanese Army of calling off the search. Hours later, a Civil Defense team brought heavy machinery to help clear the rubble, and work resumed.

The army released a statement saying it was the search teams who had stopped working, fearing that walls could collapse on them.

On Friday, teams of workers in hard hats and yellow vests dug carefully through the rubble with shovels and bare hands, so as not to wound any possible survivors or damage any remains found underneath.

The Chilean search team occasionally called for silence on the nearby street to allow their sensors to pick up sounds from under the wreckage, and rescuers created 3-D images of the ruins to try to identify where survivors or bodies might be hidden.

An artist, Ivan Debs, created an image of Flash bravely standing on a pile of rubble, his heart connecting with a heart underground.

“We have lot to learn from him,” the artist wrote on Twitter.

The area, in the predominately Christian neighborhood of Gemmayze, was once home to some of the city’s most vibrant nightlife, its main street lined with restaurants and bars where patrons regularly spilled out on the sidewalk late into the night. The destroyed building where the crews searched had been part of row containing a Chinese restaurant, a photo studio and a grocery story called Twenty-Four Seven.

Now, those businesses have been erased, most residents have left their damaged apartments and nearby shops and eateries are closed. At night, the area is almost entirely dark.


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