Since Thursday, all eyes and ears in Lebanon have been tuned to Mar Mikhail, where a group of Chilean volunteers and their iconic dog have been leading a seemingly impossible operation to rescue a potential survivor from beneath the rubble.
But, who are TOPOS Chile and how did they come to lead the operation that has arrested the attention of an entire nation and beyond?
TOPOS Chile, Spanish for “Chile Moles,” is a renowned humanitarian search and rescue group of 18 rescuers that was established in 1985 after the infamous Mexico City earthquake.
Throughout the years, it came to be regarded among the best rescue groups in the world.
Consisting of over a dozen volunteers and a rescue dog named Flash, the Chilean NGO is a highly-revered team in their home country, Chile, and the world for their remarkable work in different disaster-stricken sites.
Past Rescue Operations
TOPOS Chile has assisted rescue efforts in the Fukushima earthquake (Japan, 2011), in addition to areas hit by natural disasters in each of Brazil, Chile, Iran, Egypt, Mexico, and other countries since the 80s.
In earthquake-stricken Mexico City in 1985, the volunteers saved 70 people from under the rubble.
But perhaps the most famous accomplishment made by the team is when they recovered a survivor from under the rubble of a destroyed building in Haiti, 27 days after he got trapped as a result of an earthquake.
It was this achievement that partly inspired hope in the ongoing operation in Beirut, which the team started after detecting possible signs of life through their advanced auditory and thermal equipment, life-locating devices, and – of course – Flash‘s keen and trained sense of smell.
How Did They Reach Beirut?
Since the Beirut blast of August 4th, the Lebanese Ambassador to Chile Joumane Khaddage Zahalan has been working with the Lebanese community there to raise funds and send aid to Lebanon.
“Our ambassador, with the aid of the Lebanese community, made the fundraising [to] make this trip possible to Beirut,” Akram Nehme, the founder of the Lebanese NGO Achrafieh 2020, told CBC.
The said NGO also helped the Chilean team come to Beirut.
However, their arrival in the Lebanese capital was seemingly not as smooth as it should have been. Reportedly, the members of TOPOS Chile had no place to stay until another local NGO, Live Love Beirut, helped secure their accommodation.
Today, the team is working relentlessly in a ravaged street in Mar Mikhail / Gemmayzeh, hoping to once again unearth a much-needed miracle from underneath the dust and debris.
While they cannot be certain if their hopes will be satisfied, they must not back down. For, in their own words, their famous motto, “no one is dead until we find them.”