Holding out for a miracle, the search for a possible survivor under Beirut’s rubble enters a third day

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Rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Lebanon’s capital Beirut after scanners detected a pulse on September 4, 2020. (AFP)
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Lebanese and Chilean rescuer workers at the rubble of a badly damaged building in Beirut in search of possible survivors early on September 4, 2020. (AFP)
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Lebanese and Chilean rescuer workers watch as a crane lifts pieces of cement from a badly damaged building in Beirut in search of possible survivors early on September 4, 2020. (AFP)
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Lebanese and Chilean rescuer workers watch as a crane lifts pieces of cement from a badly damaged building in Beirut in search of possible survivors early on September 4, 2020. (AFP)
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Above, a rescue dog walks near rubble of damaged buildings due to the massive explosion at Beirut’s port area. (Reuters)
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Chilean and Lebanese rescuers search in the rubble of a building that was collapsed in last month's massive explosion, after getting signals there may be a survivor under the rubble, in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020. (AP)
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A rescue team searches through rubble of damaged buildings due to the massive explosion at Beirut's port area, in Beirut, Lebanon September 3, 2020. (Reuters)
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Rescue workers dig through the rubble of a badly damaged building in Beirut in search of possible survivors. (AFP)
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As the search and rescue work continued, a truck was brought in that helps to reduce the dust produced as drilling work continued. (Photo: Tony Srour ANfr)
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Lebanese and Chilean rescuer workers gather at the rubble of a badly damaged building in Beirut in search of possible survivors early on September 4, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 05 September 2020

Holding out for a miracle, the search for a possible survivor under Beirut’s rubble enters a third day

  • A team with a rescue dog had detected signs of a pulse and breathing under a destroyed building
  • A moment of silence has been planned for Friday at 6.08 p.m. the time the blast ripped through the city

BEIRUT: The search for a possible survivor trapped under the debris of a building toppled by the devastating Beirut blast resumed on Saturday in the city’s Gemmayzeh district – two days after a sniffer dog first discovered possible signs of life.

A border collie dog working with volunteer Chilean rescuers had identified what was suspected to be signs of a person beneath the destroyed building on Thursday, sparking an intensive search.

Early on Friday, special equipment appeared to confirm that there were signs of two bodies - one potentially of a survivor after breathing was detected, trapped in the debris.

The life signs were minimak  - just 18 breaths per minute, while a faint heartbeat could also be detected, the Chilean team said.

However, Francisco Lermanda, head of the Chilean rescue team, said that it was likely whoever was trapped was in a coma.

The discovery was made 29 days after the huge explosion in Beirut’s port killed almost 200 people, injured 6,000, and devastated large areas of the city.

The building where the search was being conducted had once housed a bar on its ground floor.

“These (signs of breathing and pulse) along with the temperature sensor means there is a possibility of life,” rescue worker Eddy Bitar told reporters at the scene.

Rescue workers in bright jackets clambered over the building that had collapsed in the blast.

Bitar said a civil defense unit had been called in to help with extra equipment to conduct the search.

Local media said any search and rescue effort, if it became clear that someone was still alive, was likely to take hours.

Residents gathered nearby, holding out hope that someone could be found, while some voiced frustration that not enough had been done earlier to find survivors.

“How many people could have survived if there had been a state and rescue operations ready?” asked 28-year-old Chadem.

Rescue workers, many moving rubble with their bare hands, were preparing to work through Friday night in their efforts to find any survivor. They  initially suspended the search operation late on Thursday night, sparking angered reactions from locals.

Lermanda said: “We decided to dig three tunnels to reach him, and today we continued to work in these tunnels. We are only 120 cm away. We cannot yet confirm whether this person is alive or not out of respect for the feelings of the family.”

He added: “We will continue to work and will not stop until we get a result. We will work even if there is a 1 percent chance.” Lebanese troops cordoned off the building on Mar Mikhael Street amid fears the already weakened structure could collapse, while media crews set up facilities in the surrounding buildings for live broadcasts of the rescue operation.

Residents in Beirut’s Gemmayze reacted angrily as rescue workers broke for the night. They resumed the search a short while later at 1 a.m. on Friday (Video: Tony Srour ANfr)

Lebanese troops cordoned off the building on Mar Mikhael Street amid fears the already weakened structure could collapse, while media crews set up facilities in the surrounding buildings for live broadcasts of the rescue operation.

The Chilean volunteers, who arrived in Beirut with their rescue dog Flash four days ago to help  search for missing people, have now been hailed as heroes, with one Lebanese activist saying the dog “was smarter than the entire government.”

Paolo Torres, a Chilean-born photojournalist, told Arab News the team belongs to an NGO known as the Topos International Research and Assistance Disaster Relief Foundation, which has extensive experience in mine rescue operations in Chile.

Torres said a member of the Chilean team had told him: “No one brought us here; we came from Chile to help Beirut.”

 


See more photos of the Beirut blast rescue efforts


 

Oscar-nominated director Nadine Labaki joined angered residents as they demanded the work continued.

“There could be someone alive,” she said. “That cannot wait until tomorrow morning.”

“You have no brains,” another woman was quoted as saying. “If your sister or mother was there, would you leave them?”

As a crowd gathered to await news of a “miracle,” Beirut residents took to social media to criticize their government, saying it had taken a foreign rescue team to find any signs of life so long after the Aug. 4 explosion.

One described the Chilean dog as a “hero” and wrote that it was “smarter than an entire government.”

However, Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud, speaking during a visit to the rescue site, said: “Lebanon was not prepared for a crisis like this. We do not have the dogs, thermal machines, or the other equipment that the Chilean rescue team has.”

The Lebanese army said last Saturday that seven people, three Lebanese, three Syrians and one Egyptian, are still missing after the explosion.




As the search and rescue work continued, a truck was brought in that helps to reduce the dust produced as drilling work continued. (Photo: Tony Srour ANfr)

Across from Mar Mikhail, near Beirut port, a commemoration was held for the 191 victims of the blast in the presence of some of their relatives on Friday evening. Lebanon observed a minute’s silence at 6:08 p.m. on Friday.

Soldiers fired a salute, then laid a white rose for every one of the 191 victims at a memorial. The crowd fell silent at 6:08 p.m., the moment of the explosion that marked the most destructive single blast in Lebanon’s violent history.

The blast displaced 300,000 people and caused direct damage of $15 billion to 50,000 homes, nine major hospitals and 178 schools.

The second phase of the judicial investigation, led by Judge Fadi Sawan, will begin on Monday with four witnesses due to appear. Rola Al-Tabash, a member of the Future Parliamentary bloc, said the possibility that a survivor was still alive in the debris is “a new scandal that parallels the tragedy in Beirut.”

Businessman Bahaa Hariri tweeted that “due to mismanagement by the corrupt authorities, people were left to die under the rubble.”

(With agencies)


US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

Updated 22 October 2020

US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

  • Intelligence director: “These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries”

WASHINGTON: US officials accused Iran on Wednesday of being behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.
The announcement at a rare, hastily called news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the US government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.
The activities attributed to Iran would mark a significant escalation for a nation that some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate player in online espionage, with the announcement coming as most public discussion surrounding election interference has centered on Russia, which hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, and China, a Trump administration adversary.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” said John Ratcliffe, the government’s top intelligence official, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 US election and that the integrity of the election is still sound.
“You should be confident that your vote counts,” Wray said. “Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials familiar with the matter said the US has linked Tehran to messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four battleground states that falsely purported to be from the neo-fascist group Proud Boys and that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.
The officials also said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration data, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails were intended to hurt Trump, though he did not elaborate on how. An intelligence assessment released in August said: “Iran seeks to undermine US democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content.”
Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the press conference but repeated a familiar campaign assertion that Iran is opposed to his reelection. He promised that if he wins another term he will swiftly reach a new accord with Iran over its nuclear program.
“Iran doesn’t want to let me win. China doesn’t want to let me win,” Trump said. “The first call I’ll get after we win, the first call I’ll get will be from Iran saying let’s make a deal.”
Both Russia and Iran also obtained voter registration information, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Asked about the emails during an online forum Wednesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she lacked specific information. “I am aware that they were sent to voters in multiple swing states and we are working closely with the attorney general on these types of things and others,” she said.
While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated US election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done so.
The voter intimidation operation apparently used email addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can include email addresses and phone numbers. Those addresses were then used in an apparently widespread targeted spamming operation. The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.
“These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections,” Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after reports of the emails first surfaced.