Bring the bombers to stand in casualty, says ambulanceman

 

At least on the surface there was normality. The ambulances at Tyrone County Hospital were parked in their bays yesterday afternoon. But the crews had to use a power hose to wash the blood off, inside and out. You could still get the smell of burning in them, one young ambulance man said. He could even smell it in his house, he had brought in on his clothes.

He had been less than five years in the service and was on call with more experienced colleagues. "I thought after the ceasefires maybe I'd be spared this. Maybe I'd not see it.

"The others just kept saying: `not this again'. They had seen it before, but even they had never seen it on this scale." The two crews on duty could hear the screaming from the town as they readied their ambulances in the still afternoon.

"That sound is the thing you can't describe about a scene like that . . . the screaming and the smell."

When they arrived, three young women were bundled into his ambulance. "One of them had her back still burning and her leg blown off. The leg had been almost cauterised by the heat."

Those responsible, the ambulance men agreed, should be "dragged in by the hair and made to stand in the middle of casualty".

Since the bomb he hasn't been able to read a newspaper. He has been offered counselling but said he would work it out in his own way.

"It's not just the dead. Omagh is now a town with a legacy of handicaps," his colleague said.

Down from the courthouse, flowers piled up outside Wattersons, the clothes shop where three of the 28 victims had worked. Geraldine Breslin, Ann McCombe and Veda Short were named on a typed notice as the "respected and totally dedicated members of staff". The shop would remain closed until after their funerals.

The shop survived the blast intact. Had they been inside so would they, but like hundreds of others they had been cleared from the courthouse area.

Town photographer, Ed Winters, who runs a studio at the site of the blast, stood watching the flowers pile up. Just days ago he had two clients who wanted an engagement photograph.

"They picked them up on Friday morning. They were clearly so much in love. They couldn't stop looking at each other. The girl wanted me to take a photograph of her fiance for her locket. I joked that she'd always have him with her. She held the locket, smiled and laughed. I heard just this morning her body was identified by finding the locket."

Earlier yesterday morning Omagh District Council held an emergency meeting in its chamber in the red-brick council building, next door to Lisanelly Barracks, where the 28 bodies lay. A pavilion on the army camp had been converted into a chapel of rest for the families.

Mr Francie Mackey of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement was among councillors who condemned the bomb, council chairman and Sinn Fein councillor, Mr Sean Clarke said. Mr Mackey had also signed the book of condolence.

SDLP councillor Mr Pat McDonald said the meeting had been sombre but businesslike, with unionist and nationalist councillors sharing the table as usual. He had spent much of the last 48 hours with relatives. "I had never taken part in a great human drama like that. You tried in your own inadequate way to sustain and boost the poor shattered people around you.

"I went home after having spent the night in the leisure centre and even though it was 8 o'clock I went and checked my own children in bed. Then it hit me there would be people going home and children never being checked in bed again."

At the health centre, where people were treated for minor injuries and shock, bright empty waiting rooms were ready to take the bereaved and traumatised. Leaflets on coping with a tragedy were on the reception desk.

Words from a survivor of the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry disaster, a policeman after the King's Cross fire and the husband of a nurse were all quoted in the simple leaflet.

The chairman of the town's GPs' association, Dr Irfan Hassan, said five of his patients had been seriously injured. Two of them, teenagers, had been killed. They had been working in an Oxfam shop in the town, Dr Hassan said.

His phone rang and the mother of a young student who had been involved in the bomb but not physically injured wanted him to explain to the university that her daughter could not sit an exam.

"It's so difficult with the deaths of young people. I've been in this town for almost 20 years so I saw them grow up. I was their doctor. I personally feel bewildered that any human being can do such tremendous damage to their own people. It's not foreigners who are doing the damage." Since Saturday GPs have been inundated with requests for support.

The Board of the health trust that runs the area's services met yesterday morning. One of the decision was to transfer a member of the member health team to the health centre to provide counselling. The psychotherapist Mr John Slane said the funerals and wakes would unite people.

"After the funerals are over, that's when we will be coming in. And we want to emphasise that what the majority of people are feeling at the moment is perfectly normal."

In group discussions with hospital staff the main theme had been one of helplessness, Mr Slane said. "That's an experience that we're all sharing."

At the leisure centre a line of grim-faced teenagers queued to sign the condolence book. Rest in peace, most wrote.

In a flower shop on a street on which people were evacuated in the opposite direction from the bomb, two young women worked on bouquets. On the floor there were huge displays paid for by well-wishers from abroad.

"They just phoned and asked us to put the flowers wherever they were being placed." The cards came from Edinburgh, Wolverhampton, Castlebar and one "from a Dublin grandmother and her family. This one is here is for a house where a young girl was killed," the woman said, as she arranged the red flowers. "She loved bright colours."

In the Tyrone County Hospital reception, the smell of freesias sweetened the air. "Thinking of you on these most difficult times," the card read, signed from an Australian hospital.

The ambulanceman said he would take some time off, as he did not want to return to work immediately. But he loved his job. Did he not feel he had saved lives on Saturday? "Hopefully", he said. Then he added quietly: "Maybe."