A team of Lebanese firefighters have been hailed as heroes after pictures emerged of them heading into the Beirut warehouse storing 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate moments before it exploded.
At least 10 firefighters were dispatched to fight the blaze in Beirut's port that ignited the chemicals, leading to the blast that flattened the area and damaged half the capital. They are all presumed dead, but only one of the team has been added to the official death toll of 145 upon confirmation.
A funeral was held on Thursday for 25-year-old firefighter Sahar Fares, whose body was recovered after the blast.
Video shared online showed a crowd ululating and throwing flower petals as her coffin was carried from an ambulance and sirens wailed from a convoy of rescue vehicles.
Her fiance Gilbert Karaan posted an online tribute to his “guardian angel”, calling her a martyr and saying they were engaged to be married next year. “I've lost the will to live since you've been gone,” he wrote. “They robbed me of your smile and tenderness. I love you and I will always love you until we meet again and continue our journey together.”
Other photos shared online showed moments from the rescue crew's final fatal mission to extinguish the warehouse fire that sparked the massive explosion.
One photo shared online (below) shows three firefighters using a crowbar to try and open a sliding warehouse door. Two of the men are in uniform, with a third in civilian clothes. A hazardous chemical sign is visible on the door, which is marked entrance 12.
The men were identified as Jo Noon, Methal Hawwa and Najib Hitti by MailOnline, which reported that the man who took the photo died and the image recovered from his phone.
They had been dispatched from a fire station in Karantina, a Beirut district close to the port. The station’s fire chief told MailOnline the crew were heroes.
“They were all good people, they were always willing to be first on the front line,” he said, asking to withhold his name. “What can be said of someone who sacrifices himself for the safety of others? They are all heroes and we are indebted to them.”
Another widely shared photo shows eight of the smiling firefighters sitting inside a rescue vehicle, apparently on their way to the fire at the port. Ms Fares was seated in the middle flanked by two men and with five more behind her.
International rescue workers poured into Beirut on Thursday, where a two-week state of emergency is in effect. A British military team was expected to arrive in Beirut to help coordinate the British response but the Lebanese government reportedly turned down an offered search and rescue team, saying it had sufficient capacity already.
Security forces have sealed a wide cordon around the blast zone, while rescue workers searched for bodies and survivors in the rubble.
The coast guard and navy have been searching the waters off the coast. On Thursday, they made a miraculous rescue, recovering a port worker from the sea, 30 hours after the explosion.
Amin Zahed, a 42-year-old father of two, was believed to have been blown out to sea by the force of the blast. His brother Mohammad had shared a photo of him with an Instagram page created to help Lebanese find missing loved ones. He was found bloodied but alive early on Thursday morning by the Lebanese navy, local media reported.
A photo shared online is believed to show him after he was dragged aboard a rescue vessel, lying on the deck of a boat, with bandages wrapped around his head and body.
“Ten minutes prior to the explosion, he sent me a photo of the fire that preceded the explosion. All of Beirut was shaken by the explosion, and so were we … we were shaken twice, by the explosion and then he went missing,” his brother told The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi.
But even after he was reportedly rushed to hospital in Beirut, his family have not been able to find him, with several facilities saying they have no record of him. “We just want to see him. We were told by the army that they saved him and he is alive. We do not know where he is,” his brother said.