The thought that one more person might have survived the bombing was a glimmer of hope in the downtrodden city. Like much of Lebanon, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the corrupt government and frustration with the struggling economy.
Those hopes were shattered on Saturday when the Chilean team said no one was alive beneath the rubble of the lead search and rescue efforts.
“Unfortunately, today, we can say that there is no sign inside the building,” Francisco Lermonta, head of the Chilean rescue team Tobos, told reporters at a news conference.
Previously, the search team thought they had detected signs of life, but Lermanda explained that the breaths they heard came from their own team members, which they learned only after they tested the area.
“At around 3am we detected a breath, but after examining the area, we realized that the exhalation had entered the first floor from our own rescue crew. The device was very sensitive, so minimal emissions would be detected,” he said.
Riyad al-Assad, a leading Lebanese engineer working with the Chilean team, said three levels of the building had been searched and no body, alive or dead, had been found. The group is now looking at the sidewalk, which they estimate will take three hours, after which they will announce the operation, al-Assad said.
Lermonda told reporters that one of the last things the rescue team did before reporting that no one was alive beneath the rubble was digging and inspecting the tunnel. “We went down a tunnel and our two women rescue (workers) went down because of their expertise and their size, so we can finally rule out that there was no one inside.”
The Topos Chile rescue team said they would take other action in Beirut if the Lebanese government asked them.
“We want to go everywhere, but we respect governments and the people,” Lermonda said. “If they ask us to go anywhere, we go to zero (port) or a building where someone is missing.”
Earlier, Lebanese civil defense members told CNN that rescue workers believed the locations under the rubble were a heartbeat signal, but no survivors were found.
“We did not find anyone at the scene where the machine was found,” said Kasem Kather, a volunteer with the Civil Defense.
Eddie Bidar, a local NGO employee, said the search was triggered by a rescue dog that passed through a destroyed building with a Chilean rescue team on Thursday and showed signs of life.
Thermal imaging then showed two bodies – one small body curled up next to a large body. The listening device recorded 18 breaths per minute, Bitter said.
Rescue teams dug tunnels through the thick concrete debris. Lermonda said she was wary of the possibility of finding someone alive after so many days under the rubble. But he did not deny it. One of the wreckage in Haiti has survived 28 days.
Tension at the site
The move has unleashed a storm of emotion among the audience. As the search was temporarily suspended on Thursday amid fears that the collapse of a wall could endanger the lives of rescue crews, protests erupted around 100 people outside the area.
“That breath is our last breath. This is our last hope. You should all be ashamed,” protesters Melissa Atalla shouted. Heard a woman say: “We’ve been here a month, could you not stay until one night?”
Marks were dropped at the site of the rescue attempt after the Chilean team left, demanding that the operation be restarted immediately. One woman said she had ordered a crane, while other protesters climbed into the rubble to search for the body.
Tensions continued to rise until soldiers told protesters that the team and its equipment would return to the scene immediately.
CNN reported a strong, faint odor emanating from the building, which was destroyed after the blast. One woman said she had repeatedly warned authorities about this and urged them to search the site.