26 Aug 2011

Libya: The horror inside Tripoli’s Abu Salim

Chief Correspondent

Our Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson witnesses shocking scenes at a hospital in Abu Salim where doctors have fled – abandoning the injured and leaving the dead to decompose.

You may find some of the detail in this article and video report very distressing.

They say there are still snipers around the Abu Salim district so best not to simply drive to the hospital there.

Our driver left us on the main road running by the hospital building. We’d done a recce and seen a hole in the fence.

We split up to present less of a target – myself, cameraman Stuart Webb and our security adviser, a former Royal Marine best left unnamed – and we legged it across the empty dual carriageway and hit that hole in the fence.

We’d arranged to RV with our van under a nearby flyover in one hour precisely.

Fifty yards from the main entrance something was wrong. Very wrong.

Four Red Cross ambulances lined up and staff hurriedly stretchered out the last few injured men.

“Conditions in there are dreadful – just dreadful,” said Red Cross worker Bridget Comninos, “we are just trying to assist doctors here.”

In one ambulance a man, almost incoherent with fear, just kept saying: “Alhamdillulah” – thank God.

Three young children sat near him almost beatifically calm in their shock.

Ten feet away, outside the main door, a dead man’s corpse hummed with clouds of flies.

Piles of surgical dressings, bloody sheets and half-empty blood bags were all around us, oozing fluids onto the ground.

Another body, inflated with decomposition, lies 20 yards away in the sun. Male, fighting age, half the head missing.

Fifty yards further on a pile of human bodies, bloated in the hot sun. I count 22 here, including three women, and one child. Some of the male bodies are in military clothing but not all.

Inside, it is not a hospital but a mortuary – or something for which there is no word.

Stretchers and beds are stained with fluids and blood, some still dripping on the floor.

In one room a picture of Colonel Gaddafi smiles down on at least 23 more corpses shoved onto trolleys at all angles.

There is no language for the stench. You fear even to breathe in here.

A hospital orderly vomits quietly in a corridor. This is a lost place, abandoned in the chaos of fighting.

A hospital worker says we have seen only the bodies from fighting in Abu Salim in the past few days.

Downstairs, a fighter shoots the lock off the hospital basement and here are scores more bodies. Some are Col Gadaffi’s soldiers but another, broken child lies abandoned here too. Some were clearly shot dead but in all honesty most are too far gone to investigate.

I couldn’t do it.

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