His head bandaged just like his patients, Dr Antoine Qurban said Tuesday’s enormous blast brought “Armageddon” to Beirut’s overwhelmed hospitals in chaotic scenes reminiscent of a war zone.
“Wounded people bleeding out in the middle of the street, others lying on the ground in the hospital courtyard — it reminded me of my missions with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Afghanistan many years ago,” he said of his volunteer stint with the medical charity.
The surgeon was among more than 4,000 wounded people who staggered or were taken into badly damaged and massively crowded hospitals across the devastated Lebanese capital on Tuesday evening.
The huge explosion has piled even more pressure on Lebanon’s strained health sector, which before the disaster was already struggling with a wave of coronavirus cases and a severe economic crisis.
“It was Armageddon,” Qurban, who is in his late sixties, told AFP outside the Hotel Dieu Hospital in central Beirut.
The facility is normally his place of work, but on Wednesday he was among throngs of patients, following up on a gash he suffered Tuesday night.
Qurban was at a nearby coffee shop when the blast hit around 6:00 pm local time, flinging him some 20 metres (60 feet) across the room.
His own hospital was overflowing within minutes with wounded, so a stranger on a motorcycle zipped him to another facility.
After an hours-long wait, a medic stitched up his head wound in the street.
‘She’s already dead’
The scenes were no less chaotic on Wednesday, as people wounded overnight by falling shards of glass sought treatment, weaving between smashed equipment and piles of debris in Hotel Dieu’s hallways.
Mothers asked desperately about the fates of their wounded sons. An elderly man begged for news of his wife, who had been transferred from another hospital.
A cacophony of cellphones rang, and fragments of exhausted conversations could be heard, usually retelling survival stories.
“A miracle kept him alive,” one woman was heard saying, while a man with a bandaged leg handed a blinking cellphone to his sister, telling her simply that “I can’t talk anymore”.
Hotel Dieu treated at least 300 wounded Tuesday and registered 13 dead, according to its medical director Dr George Dabar, who was a medical student there during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war.
“Even then, I didn’t see anything like what I saw yesterday,” he said.
His voice cracking with emotion, Dabar told AFP the hardest moment was telling families their loved ones had died, with nothing left to be done.
“It’s so hard to tell a father carrying his young daughter and trying to save her that she’s already dead.”
According to Lebanon’s health ministry, two hospitals were rendered completely out of service and two more were partly unusable.
At least five nurses died, and several medics and patients were severely hurt.
“The medical teams were already exhausted by everything that has happened in this country and by the coronavirus pandemic,” Dabar said.
“But to face yesterday’s crisis, they came together with amazing solidarity.”
From cooks to maintenance workers, Dabar said, the entire staff was working side by side so Hotel Dieu could stay open.
Evacuating COVID-19 patients
The St. George Hospital was not so lucky. The blast left the facility, one of Beirut’s oldest, with collapsed ceilings and electrical wires hanging over beds showered with glass.
“We are not in service anymore,” said St. George Hospital’s chief of staff Eid Azar.
“Amid the current economic situation, I don’t know how much time it will take to repair,” he told AFP.
Staff worked until just before dawn to evacuate patients, equipment and files.
“We did a hospital evacuation, which very rarely happens,” and which included the highly sensitive transfer of 20 patients being treated for COVID-19, he said.
Azar said the emergency operation reminded him of Hurricane Katrina, the devastating natural disaster that hit the US in 2005.
The courtyard was turned into a field clinic, where doctors in bloodied medical robes treated shell-shocked people in the open.
“There’s nothing harder than evacuating a hospital filled to the brim with patients while even more wounded are coming,” said Azar.
“The hospital staff itself was wounded and we needed to transfer our own employees.”
Medics carried patients from nine separate floors one by one on stretchers, as the blast had knocked out the elevators.
Without electricity or water, nurses took great risks to provide whatever life-saving support they could.
“The hospital lights are usually on 24 hours a day — it was completely dark,” said clinical nurse specialist Lara Daher.
“We stitched up patients by the light of our cellphones last night. I don’t know how we did it. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The Nigerian Army has urged officials of the Medicine Sans Frontier (MSF), otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders, and other international groups to desist from visiting conflict zones in the country.
The Chief of Army Policy and Plans, Lieutenant General Lamidi Adeosun, made the appeal at a meeting with members of the organisation on Friday at the Army Headquarters in Abuja.
He stressed that the security of the humanitarian workers was a top priority for the Nigerian government.
Adeosun informed the MSF that the plea to stay away from conflict zones was in their interest as Boko Haram terrorists carry out attacks indiscriminately.
Trained To Kill
“Despite your neutrality and impartiality, at times situations make it sometimes difficult for you to have the reach you would like to have – neutrally without any security man or apparatus seen around you,” he said.
The lieutenant general added, “To the terrorists, everything is a target; they don’t know what it is to even attack you as a group that is concerned and responsible for their well-being, because they are not trained in that manner; they are only trained to kill.”
He stressed that while reaching out to victims of conflict across the country, its members must cooperate with the government by keeping away from serious conflict zones.
Adeosun, however, promised to ensure adequate security for members of the organisation to help them alleviate the plight of persons affected by insurgency in the North East.
“We must continue to operate with understandings so that while you are providing succour for the people, you also don’t come into harm’s way,” he said.
Nearly 700,000 people have been displaced by violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Wednesday, pointing to “worrying” cases of malnutrition and sexual violence.
In a press release, it said more than 687,500 displaced people were now living in camps or with host families.
Between January and September, MSF treated at least 11,220 children suffering from malnutrition, 2,310 victims of sexual violence and 1,980 wounded, it said.
The agency highlighted the territories of Masisi, Rutshuru, and Walikale in the southern part of North Kivu province.
“We have treated twice as many victims of sexual violence as last year,” Ewald Stals, MSF’s health coordinator in Masisi, said.
North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda and Uganda, is one of the most dangerous zones in Africa’s Great Lakes region.
Militia groups have controlled much of the province since the Congo Wars of the 1990s, killing civilians and fighting over resources.
Migrants and refugees have been shot and wounded in a detention centre south of Tripoli as Libyan fighters battle for control of the capital, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Friday.
Clashes between Libya’s Tripoli-based unity government forces and fighters of military commander Khalifa Haftar have raged since April 4, when the strongman launched an assault to seize the capital.
The UN and international NGOs have warned that thousands of migrants and refugees who fled violence at home and are now trapped in Libyan detention centres are facing enormous dangers and must be evacuated.
On Wednesday the UN refugee agency UNHCR said it had evacuated 325 asylum seekers from the Qasr Bin Ghashir detention centre a day after an attack against refugees and migrants. It was not clear who carried out the assault.
“While there were no bullet wounds, 12 refugees endured physical attacks that required hospital treatment,” a statement said.
But on Friday MSF said, “an analysis of existing photographic and video evidence by MSF medical doctors concluded that injuries shown are consistent with gunshot wounds”.
“These observations are further supported by numerous accounts from refugees and migrants who witnessed the event and reported on being brutally and indiscriminately attacked with the use of firearms,” it said.
MSF published video footage showing several people bleeding from what appeared to be bullet holes in limbs and other parts of their bodies.
“To say we were outraged is an understatement,” MSF head of emergency programmes Karline Kleijer was quoted as saying in the statement.
“Mere condemnation of the violence against migrants and refugees is meaningless unless immediate action is taken by the international community to evacuate the remaining thousands.”
MSF said that over 700 unarmed men, women and children were trapped in the Qasr Bin Ghashir detention centre.
The watchdog said residents of the centre have been moved to another detention camp west of Tripoli on Wednesday and Thursday.
“While they are no longer in the direct vicinity of fighting, people are still subjected to dangerous and degrading conditions and rapidly changing conflict dynamics that continue to pose a threat to all those locked up in detention centres in and around Tripoli,” it warned.
Human Rights Watch has also sounded the alarm.
It quoted two migrants from a detention centre in an eastern suburb of Tripoli and a third one who was detained in the centre of the capital as saying armed men have forced them to work for them.
In one instance two detainees said they were ordered to repair military vehicles and “to load, unload, and clean weapons”, including machine guns, HRW said.
Libya, long a major transit route for migrants desperate to reach Europe, is home to around 6,000 migrants who are held in official detention centres, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Hundreds more are held by armed groups elsewhere in the war-hit country.
The Nigerian Air Force investigative panel set up to over the misfiring incident by one of its jets has been having series of discussions with survivors of the incident.
This is because the affected population in Rann community, of Kalabalge Local Government in Borno state have been thrown into trauma, following the incident which left over 200 people dead.
While some of those affected by the misfire have been whisked away to Maiduguri, others with minor injuries are stabilizing back home.
But anytime an Air Force jet flies over the Rann airspace, there is panic and fear of the unknown, according to officials of the 3 Battalion operating in the area.
Civilian authorities, the Nigerian Army and the Air Force have been talking to them for confidence building.
The Commanding Officer of 3 Battalion, Colonel Patrick Omoke said: “There’s been some form of panic within the community.
“Even when we send for aggressor to come and check what’s happening around us, the moment it’s airborne everybody starts dispersing maybe as a result of shock from the event of January 17th.
“But we have been doing a lot of talking to them through the community leaders, explaining to them that it was an accident and we are the ones sending for them now to come and survey and make sure that we are safe.”
Some of the locals confirmed the words of the Commanding Officer, confessing their feeling of insecurity and fear of the unknown anytime an aircraft flies over the community.
One of the survivors, Bulama Malawa, told Channels TV: “I lost my wife and daughter to the bomb from the airplane and people were in pieces that day.
“Today when we see them coming, everyone looks for where to hide especially the children. We are lucky to be alive from the last time but so no one is taking chances.”
The AVM Bala-Ribah-led board has assured the villagers of the good intentions of the Nigerian Air Force and a thorough investigation.
Part of the terms of reference of the board is to investigate circumstances surrounding the operational error that killed over 200 civilians and two soldiers.
“In the Nigerian Air Force, be it accidents, incidents or whatever, we go very thorough in our investigations; reason being that the operations will be continuous and if there was a mistake whether systemic, whether it was from the machine or from the human being; we need to find out exactly what the problem was so that we can incorporate that in our local procedure or in the rules of engagement to forestall future occurrence,” he said.
The board also visited the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Lucky Irabor, commending the Army for the show of solidarity when the error occurred.
General Irabor has also asked the Air Force Investigative Board to concentrate on detecting what went wrong and make recommendations on how future occurrences can be forestalled.
He said that the theatre command is also conducting independent investigation for record purposes.
There are about 23,000 men, women and children living in Rann, the headquarters of Kalabalge Local Government Area.
While the Doctors Without Borders (MSF), put the death toll at 90, the locals put the figure at over 200.
The Nigerian Airforce had admitted that the bombing was a mistake and apologised.
The Presidency has lashed out at UK tabloid, London Telegraph, over an article it published on July 30 which suggested that the Nigerian government is diverting funds meant to combat terrorism to persecute President Muhammadu Buhari’s political foes.
Presidential Spokesperson, Mr Garba Shehu said in a statement on Monday that the claims were incorrect and unhelpful to Nigeria’s war on terrorism, rather it further strengthens the insurgents’ quest to divide Nigeria.
The London Telegraph’s article “Children Face Death by Starvation in Northern Nigeria” (30th July, 2016) repeats a claim from an earlier piece “Nigeria Using UK Aid to Persecute President’s Political Foes” (12th April, 2016) – that Nigeria is diverting UK aid monies away from defeating the Islamist terror group Boko Haram towards those the newspaper identified as political opponents of the Buhari administration.
“This is as incorrect as it is unhelpful,” Mr Shehu said.
“These claims in both articles are attributed to an unnamed ‘source’ in the United States, and ‘Western officials’. Yet when the first article was published it drew the condemnation of the US Embassy in Abuja as having drawn conclusions directly opposite to the position of the US government.
“To state the facts: the UK government does not give development aid to the Nigerian administration for use in military operations against Boko Haram. Where British military support – such as intelligence – is provided, it is precisely and only, given for operations directly against Boko Haram.
“Similarly, the Nigerian Government is in no position to divert aid monies used for emergency relief for refugees or IDP camps for any other purpose, as these are dispensed directly by DFID, USAID, the United Nations, the International Red Cross, Doctors without Borders and many other organizations – with which we enjoy excellent relations.
“The humanitarian situation in these camps is real. The Administration remains deeply concerned about the medical, health and nutrition challenges and we are doing everything with the limited resources we have at our disposal to improve the situation.
“However, the blame for the plight of refugees lies with Boko Haram. They are its cause, not the Nigerian Government.
“In the light of ongoing efforts, we regret the recent attack on the UN humanitarian convoy in the Northeastern region and are encouraged by the world body’s determination to continue rendering assistance to the displaced victims.
“That the attack was repelled by Nigerian troops escorting the convoy shows precisely how the Government and humanitarian agencies are working together.
“As for claims that the administration is targeting Christians and the opposition, these are without foundation.
“Since assuming office, President Buhari has treated all Nigerians without bias for ethnicity or religion – as the composition of his cabinet and the policies and programmes of his administration demonstrate.
“To suggest his government as deepening Muslim-Christian division is not only untrue, but plays into the hands of Boko Haram who wish to divide Nigerians along religious lines.
“Fighting this group is key priority of President Buhari’s administration. Indeed, the international community has widely acknowledged his determination to defeat terrorism in Nigeria and the entire Lake Chad Basin.
“There is nothing to gain by attempting to mould public opinion against these facts. Therefore, we invite The Telegraph to visit Nigeria to witness first hand, not only the challenges we face, but the administration’s determination to confront them.”
The United Nations has been accused of failing to act quickly enough to save hundreds of thousands of lives in north east Nigeria where a food crisis already killing hundreds of people a day is poised to become the most devastating in decades.
The head of Médecins Sans Frontières operations in Nigeria, Isabelle Mouniaman, said that MSF has been raising the alarm in northern Nigeria for two years and U.N organisations have failed to respond.
She also accused the federal government of deliberate negligence and attempting to conceal the scale of the crisis.
International aid agencies have focused on Maiduguri’s overstretched camps, but more than 80% of displaced people in the city, around 1.9 million people, are living among the community, the vast majority without access to food aid or medical support.
A doctor who treated Ebola patients in Guinea, West Africa, Dr. Craig Spencer has tested positive for the deadly Ebola virus disease, making him the first recorded case in America’s largest city, New York and the ninth in the country.
Despite widespread fear that the disease was spreading in the country, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said residents were safe to travel around the city, even as officials disclosed that Dr. Craig Spencer had ridden subways, taken a taxi and visited a bowling alley since returning from Guinea on Oct. 17.
Spencer had worked with the humanitarian organization – Doctors Without Borders in Africa.
He first developed Ebola symptoms on Thursday morning and was taken from his Manhattan apartment to isolation at Bellevue Hospital by a team wearing protective gear, according to city officials. He had been taking his temperature twice a day since coming home, said city Health Commissioner Mary Travis Bassett.
Two friends and his fiancée have been quarantined, the Commissioner disclosed, noting that all three were healthy. The taxi driver did not come into close contact and was not considered at risk, she said. Ebola has killed nearly 4,900 people, largely in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.