At Beirut’s ‘ground zero’, race to find survivors

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A rescue team surveys the site of this week's massive explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (AP)
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A dog of the French rescue team searches for survivors at the scene of this week's massive explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (AP)
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A rescue team watch diggers tackle the removal of debris from this week's massive explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 07 August 2020

At Beirut’s ‘ground zero’, race to find survivors

  • Rescuers worked shifts to try to find an entrance to a control room buried under meters (yards) of rubble
  • The death toll for the disaster stood at 154 on Friday but dozens of people were still reported missing

BEIRUT: Ankle-deep in corn spilling from a huge gutted silo, rescuers guide an excavator to clear access to a room where they believe Beirut port employees could still be alive.
Three days after the monster explosion that disfigured the city in a matter of seconds, the clock was already ticking down Friday on any potential survivors’ chances.
Rescuers from Lebanon, France, Germany, Russia and other countries worked shifts to try to find an entrance to a control room buried under meters (yards) of rubble.
Beirut’s “ground zero,” a term describing the point closest to a detonation that was first used for the 1945 atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, filled up with teams working together in a desperate push to find survivors.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, the chances are quite low,” said Lt. Andrea, a member of a 55-stong French contingent at the forefront of the rescue effort.
“But it’s been done before, three days later, four days later,” survivors have been found, he said, the charred silos behind him cutting a ghostly figure against Beirut’s ravaged skyline.
The death toll for the disaster, one of the worst of its kind in modern history, stood at 154 on Friday but dozens of people were still reported missing.
Andrea explained that the effort at the port was focused on the control room because a significant number of people would have been working there at the time of the explosion.
He said some smaller primary explosions in the port, however, might have led the staff to flee the room.
“The four bodies we uncovered in the search area... were found next to a safety exit staircase at the foot of the silos,” Andrea explained.
Thousands of tons of corn, wheat and barley scattered from the silos by the explosion carpeted the port car parks and quays.
An eerie calm filled the unrecognizable docks, usually bustling with traffic, workers and traders.
Rescuers stood silently above a gap in the ground as a sniffer dog paced around a forest of mangled containers thrown around the port like sugar cubes.
The cargo pouring out of them gave a sample of the goods that had just entered the country: French-language school books, luxury handbags, crates of imported beer.
Three Red Cross volunteers looked dazed as they walked around the site of the blast and stopped by the waterfront to stare at their devastated city.
“It looks so quiet, but bad quiet. Something in this city died and will not rise again,” said one of them, standing with his arms akimbo and his gaze lost in the destruction before him.
The only sounds were those of massive excavators smashing a path through the rubble, rotary saws cutting iron rods and jackhammers breaking blocks of concrete into smaller pieces.
Col. Tissier, leader of the French rescue team who briefed France’s President Emmanuel Macron during his visit on Thursday, has worked on many disaster sites.
“The specificity here is that the epicenter is just here, a few meters away from us, whereas usually with earthquakes it is several hundred meters below ground level,” he said.
“With quakes, things usually collapse in layers... here everything was just pulverised,” he said.
That means the growing fleet of heavy machinery converging on Beirut port Friday had to dig into solid mounds of rubble before reaching whatever is buried under it.
“When it comes to the actual center of the impact, it is quite reminiscent of September 11 ‘ground zero’,” Andrea said of the 2001 US attacks on the Twin Towers in New York.
“The extent of the destruction will also remind some members of our team of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010,” he said.
“The difference here is that it’s not an earthquake. Humans did this.”


Haftar agrees to lift Libya oil blockade with conditions

Updated 18 September 2020

Haftar agrees to lift Libya oil blockade with conditions

  • Pro-Haftar groups supported by the Petroleum Facilities Guard blockaded key oilfields and export terminals on January 17

BENGHAZI: Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar announced Friday a conditional lifting of a months-long blockade on oilfields and ports by his forces.
“We have decided to resume oil production and export on condition of a fair distribution of revenues” and guarantee they “will not be used to support terrorism,” he said on television.
Pro-Haftar groups supported by the Petroleum Facilities Guard blockaded key oilfields and export terminals on January 17 to demand what they called a fair share of hydrocarbon revenues.
The blockade, which has resulted in more than $9.8 billion in lost revenue, according to National Petroleum Company (NOC), has exacerbated electricity and fuel shortages in the country.
Dressed in his military uniform, Haftar said the command of his forces had “put aside all military and political considerations” to respond to the “deterioration of living conditions” in Libya, which has Africa’s largest oil reserves.
The announcement comes after hundreds of Libyans protested last week in the eastern city of Benghazi, one of Haftar’s strongholds, and other cities over corruption, power cuts and shortages in petrol and cash.
Protesting peacefully at first, protesters on Sunday set fire to the headquarters of the parallel eastern government in Benghazi and attacked the police station in Al-Marj.
Police officers fired live ammunition to disperse them in Al-Marj, leaving at least one dead and several wounded, according to witnesses and the UN mission in Libya.
Libya has been in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
The country’s oil revenues are managed by the NOC and the central bank, both based in Tripoli, which is also the seat of Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
Haftar runs a rival administration based in the country’s east.
Haftar— who has the backing of Egypt, the UAE and Russia — launched an offensive against Tripoli in April last year.
After 14 months of fierce fighting, pro-GNA forces backed by Turkey expelled his troops from much of western Libya and pushed them to Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s rich oil fields and export terminals.