18.05.2022

Miracle girl found in rubble offers rare moment of hope amid grief, anger and devastation

Rescue workers had given up hope of finding anyone alive after 24 hours of digging, when a dust-covered head popped up from under the mound of masonry.

It belonged to 12-year-old Diana Omar. Her entire family had been buried under a building near the Beirut port, which on Tuesday night was eviscerated by one of the largest man-made explosions in history.

During a tour of ravaged Beirut, traumatised residents could be seen searching desperately for missing loved ones as well as trying to clean up a city engulfed by the enormous explosion, which killed at least 145 people and injured more than 5,000.

Diana’s stunning appearance offered a rare moment of joy amid these dark days. Her father Ahmad, who was injured in the blast, had been desperately scouring the hospitals and morgues of Beirut, speaking to firemen, security forces and other officials in the search for his daughter.

The rest of the family had been confirmed dead, Rita Nemer, a family friend, told The Independent.

But Diana had not been found. In desperation, Ahmad returned to the site for one last time on Wednesday night.

“Ahmad was the one who first spotted her in the debris after she had been trapped for over 24 hours,” the family friend said.

“It was a miracle she survived. The entire family bar Ahmad had died. He is so devastated – he has not spoken since the event,” she added.

Video footage of the dramatic moment showed rescue workers in the dark trying to coax the girl out from under mounds of earth, masonry, metal and wood.

In the background, Diana can be heard crying out.

Rita said that the child is being treated at the American University of Beirut Medical Centre hospital.

“She is severely injured to the throat, but she is alive,” Rita said.

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It was a miracle she survived. The entire family bar Ahmad had died. He is so devastated – he has not spoken since the event

Family friend, of girl’s father

Lebanese authorities believe that 2,700 tonnes of poorly stored ammonium nitrate, used as a fertiliser or explosive, caught fire and detonated, creating a blast wave which destroyed buildings for 25 kilometres, and could be felt as far away as Cyprus, some 100 miles away.

A local investigation is under way to determine the causes. Lebanese president Michel Aoun rejected calls for an international probe on Friday and appeared to deflect blame, saying “there is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act”.

But whatever caused the explosion, the human cost is immense, and dozens of people are still missing. Unlike Diana, many other searches for survivors did not end so happily.

The family of Amin Zaher, a 42-year-old port worker, was told he had been miraculously found alive at sea on Wednesday by security forces, who were photographed tending to a blood-soaked man on a boat.

The news spread quickly and gave hope to the families of other missing port employees.

French rescue workers search through the rubble in the devastated Beirut port on Friday (AFP/Getty)

The Zaher family searched every hospital and morgue and contacted the Health Ministry and the security forces, but it was all in vain.

“They keep telling me, ‘He’s not here,’” his brother Mohamed said in tears on the phone.

“I just want to see my brother. Where is he? Help me,” he added.

Diana al-Ali, Amin’s cousin, told The Independent that the family heard from Amin just minutes before the blast, when he sent a photo of a fire at the port where he worked as a night manager.

They had hoped he had made it to safety but now realise that the man discovered in the sea was an unidentified Syrian national who later died.

“Everyone is devastated,” she said. “The hope they were given was snatched away from them.”

Families of the missing told The Independent that they were furious with the lack of support from the government.

Tatiana Hasrouty, whose father Ghassan is also a missing port worker, said she was relying on foreign military officers drafted in to help the rescue efforts, and local volunteers.

A team of 55 French rescuers had found four bodies over the last 24 hours within the port area, according to French Civil Protection, a Paris-based aid organisation.

Among them was 23-year-old Joe Akiki, a port technician whose relatives spoke to The Independent on Thursday about their frustration with the lack of support from the Lebanese state.

As grief has turned to anger over Tuesday’s explosion, the residents of Beirut are growing fractious. Already grappling with an acute economic crisis, protesters were teargassed outside parliament by police on Thursday night, their calls for the government to resign met with force.

Sporadic protests throughout Friday similarly called for the country’s leaders, many in place since the end of the civil war, and largely seen as responsible for the corruption and mismanagement which allowed this week’s tragedy to take place, to stand down.

Activists have organised a major protest for Saturday, in the city’s Martyr’s Square, overlooking the now decimated port area, and the gaping crater the explosion left, some 200 metres across.

Tatiana said she believed the authorities only began searching the port area on Thursday for missing employees because the French president Emmanuel Macron visited that site that day and the French teams were starting their work.

“They started digging because the international community was watching them. The actual work only started when the foreign aid came,” she told The Independent.

“We have had no assistance from the Lebanese authorities,” she said. “We’re all devastated.”

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