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10 Jun 15 28 Nov 16

Syria: “Bodies were everywhere - on the tables, in the hallways, on the floor”

A horrific missile strike devastated a town centre in Idlib Governorate, northern Syria on Thursday 4 June. The wounded arrived, wave after wave, at a small makeshift hospital supported by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

The hospital director, who requested to remain anonymous for security reasons, describes the situation.

Read more about the mass casualty incident on 4 June

"This is a massacre"

“The planes circled above us in the late afternoon and we waited. Would we become casualties? Would we become numbers?

At around 3pm we heard a deafening sound as a result of three rockets exploding in a town nearby. A town overwhelmed, desperate locals living alongside many displaced people from other areas in Syria.

Apartment buildings and shops all turned to rubble in minutes.

Bodies ripped apart, flesh everywhere. This is a massacre. This is carnage.

Total destruction that’s hard to describe. A state of hysteria took over, first among the families looking for loved ones, neighbours searching for neighbours - and then it spread to us medical staff.

Only a few minutes after the first strike we received the first five wounded patients in our modest 12-bed makeshift hospital with just one operating theatre.

Instead of calls to prayer coming from the mosques, there were loud pleas for help, imploring people to find the wounded and the dead beneath the rubble.

Hospital overwhelmed


The flow of wounded never stopped. The hospital was quickly overwhelmed; bodies were everywhere - on the tables, in the hallways, on the floor.

The floor was full of blood, but we were running out of blood bags. Men and women donated their own blood to strangers. Medical staff and volunteers picked their way between the bodies of the wounded, doing what they could.

We received more than 100 injured people in the first few hours after the strikes - too many of them children. We could only treat around 80 patients, and we had to turn away 50. We didn’t have the capacity to treat their wounds.

We were only able to provide treatment for those injured by shrapnel, orthopedic cases and amputations. Unfortunately, we had to turn away those with neurological or vascular complications simply because we don’t have the resources or specialised medical staff like neurosurgeons, who are the only ones capable of responding to those needs.

Preparing for the next tragedy

Turning away patients only put our stretched medical team under even more pressure.

One mother came searching for her son. We were able to identify him from her description, but we knew he had lost his life. She collapsed into tears and refused to identify the body. I only had one choice: I brought her his shirt.

This tragic moment took place in a few seconds. I was helping my colleagues move and triage the patients in order for us to be able to give care first to those most critically wounded.

With the descent of night it became impossible to find people alive under the rubble. We will continue to find dead bodies in the next few days.

As a medical team, the only choice we have is to replenish our supplies, gather our hopes, and prepare for the next tragedy.”

Find out more about our work in Syria