‘Good chance’ of finding survivors in Beirut blast: French rescuers

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French rescuers in stricken Beirut believe they can save group stuck under rubble

BEIRUT There is a "good chance" of finding survivors of the Beirut port explosion, especially a group believed to be trapped in a room under the rubble, a French rescuer said yesterday.

"We are looking for seven or eight missing people, who could be stuck in a control room buried by the explosion," said a colonel leading a rescue team that arrived in Lebanon late on Wednesday.

"We think there is a good chance of finding... people alive," he told French President Emmanuel Macron as he surveyed the scene of Tuesday's explosion that killed more than 100 people.

Mr Macron arrived in Beirut yesterday along with specialist rescue personnel and equipment. He is the first foreign leader to arrive in Beirut.

Other countries dispatched emergency medical aid, field hospitals, rescue experts and tracking dogs as the world reacted swiftly to a vast explosion in a nation already close to economic collapse.

The blast centred on the city's port caused massive destruction and killed at least 145 people, heaping misery on a country in crisis.

Gulf states were among the first to respond, with Qatar sending mobile hospitals to ease pressure on Lebanon's medical system, strained by the coronavirus pandemic.

A Qatari Air Force plane delivered hundreds of collapsible beds, generators and burn sheets in the first of a convoy of flights to Beirut.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab has called on "friendly countries" to support a nation reeling from its worst economic crisis in decades as well as a coronavirus outbreak that has infected over 5,000 people and killed 68.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a phone call with Mr Diab, offered Washington's assistance and stressed "our solidarity with and support for the Lebanese people as they strive for the dignity, prosperity and security they deserve".

From Europe, the authorities in the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Poland offered an array of assistance including doctors, police and firefighters, together with rescue experts and sniffer dogs.

Italy said it had sent 14 firefighters specialised in assessing chemical risks and damaged structures to provide technical support. Meanwhile, Lebanon yesterday mourned the victims.

Families gathered near the port seeking information on those missing, amid rising public anger at the authorities for allowing a huge quantity of highly explosive material to be stored for years in unsafe conditions in a port warehouse.

"They will scapegoat somebody to defer responsibility," said Mr Rabee Azar, a 33-year-old construction worker.

Lebanese, who have lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in the financial crisis, blamed politicians in charge during decades of state corruption and bad governance.

"Our leaders are crooks and liars. I don't believe any investigation they will do.

"They destroyed the country and they are still lying to the people. Who are they kidding?" said retired port worker Jean Abi Hanna, 80, whose home was damaged and daughter and granddaughter injured in the blast. - AFP, REUTERS