At Baghdad hospitals, `everyone who arrived was either stable or dead'

Medical teams could do little after bridge disaster

September 01, 2005|By Ashraf Khalil | Ashraf Khalil,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The young woman, wreathed in black, sat on the tile floor and stared straight ahead - her back against the wall, her knees tucked under her chin. Around her, the hallway of Baghdad's Karkh Hospital throbbed with sounds of chaos. But the woman remained silent and still.

Few could initially comprehend the numbing scope of yesterday's bridge disaster, in which hundreds of Shiite Muslim worshipers were trampled or drowned on one of the most important days of the Shiite year.

Doctors at Baghdad's Medical City hospital complex had just a few minutes' warning before the arrival of what would become an hourslong stream of corpses. There was little they could do.

Unlike with a bombing or mortar attack, something Baghdad emergency-room crews have years of experience with, there were few critically injured cases requiring immediate care.

There was no blood and nobody to perform life-saving surgery on - just broken bones, concussions and corpses. Inside the main hospital building, triple rows of bodies lined the floor and wound through corridors. Several doctors and nurses stood by helplessly as mourners moved from body to body; one nurse wept silently.

"Everyone who arrived was either stable or dead," one doctor said.

The morgues of all four hospitals in Medical City quickly overflowed, forcing truckloads of new victims to lie unattended. Grieving relatives and covered bodies packed the hallways, parking lot and lawn. The dead lay under the blazing August sun until refrigeration trucks arrived hours later.

"Who is responsible?" shouted one man outside the hospital. "Who is responsible for this massacre?"

A young man paced in front of the hospital, talking fast on a cell phone.

"I searched everywhere and couldn't find him," he said. "There's bodies everywhere. It's chaos."

The man was desperately trying to find news of his nephew. After hearing about the incident, relatives called the nephew's cell phone. A stranger answered and said, "The owner of this phone is dead."

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