MSF eye-witness: ‘Six patients were burning in their beds’

Médecins Sans Frontières nurse recounts horrors of airstrike on hospital

The hospital in Kunduz which was bombed on Saturday. Médecins Sans Frontières says 12  of its staff and 10 patients, including three children, were killed in the attack. Photograph: MSF handout/EPA

The hospital in Kunduz which was bombed on Saturday. Médecins Sans Frontières says 12 of its staff and 10 patients, including three children, were killed in the attack. Photograph: MSF handout/EPA

 

It was around 2am when Lajos Zoltan Jecs was jolted awake by the sound of a big explosion nearby. Bombings had become a feature of life in Kunduz since last Monday, when the Taliban took the strategically important city in northern Afghanistan, but this one was closer and louder than usual. There was momentary silence, then the sound of more bombs.

“After 20 or 30 minutes, I heard someone calling my name,” recalled Jecs, a nurse who had been working at the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz since May. It was a colleague from the emergency-room; he staggered in, covered in blood, wounds all over his body. “At that point my brain just couldn’t understand what was happening. For a second I was just stood still, shocked.”

When the bombing finally stopped after about half an hour, Jecs said, he and the hospital’s project coordinator went outside to look for survivors. The building was destroyed, and parts of it were in flames. “One by one, people started appearing, wounded, including some of our colleagues and caretakers of patients,” he said in an account released through MSF.

“We tried to take a look into one of the burning buildings. I cannot describe what was inside. There are no words for how terrible it was. In the intensive care unit six patients were burning in their beds.”

“We looked for some staff that were supposed to be in the operating theatre. It was awful. A patient there on the operating table, dead, in the middle of the destruction.”

Among the few rooms that remained untouched was the inpatient department. Some people had taken shelter – and survived – in a safe bunker next door. But back at the hospital office, the scene was chaotic. Patients, many of them wounded and crying out, were everywhere.

Mass-casualty plan

Jecs and the other surviving medics watched several colleagues die. A pharmacist with whom he had spoken just the previous night, planning stocks for the coming days, passed away in the office.

“Some of my colleagues were in too much shock, crying and crying. I tried to encourage some of the staff to help, to give them something to concentrate on, to take their minds off the horror. But some were just too shocked to do anything. Seeing adult men, your friends, crying uncontrollably – that is not easy.”

Twelve staff members and at least 10 patients, including three children, were killed, according to MSF. Another 37 people were injured in the attack.

The hospital in Kunduz was the only trauma unit in the region, so its staff had dealt with the worst of the effects of last week’s fighting. Yet the events of Saturday night were “a totally different story,” Jecs said.

“These are people who had been working hard for months, non-stop for the past week. They had not gone home, they had not seen their families, they had just been working in the hospital to help people . . . and now they are dead . . . It is unspeakable.”