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Beslan Eyewitness: This was Russia's September 11

Beslan Drama: "This was Russia's September 11," says World Vision eyewitness

NAZRAN, Russian Federation - Russian medical centres were overcome with the wounded and dying in the hours after Friday's violent conclusion to the hostage drama at a school in Beslan. The attack, by terrorists believed linked to some Chechen separatists, left an estimated 350 dead and hundreds more wounded. The number of dead will rise, with over 95 hospitalised people in critical condition. Out of the 542 people hospitalised, 330 are children.

"The mattresses were soaked in blood. They couldn't be cleaned; they had to be destroyed," said David Womble, Russia programme manager for World Vision in the Russian Federation.

Womble, based 20 kilometres away in Nazran, visited medical facilities in Beslan and nearby Vladikavkaz on Saturday, where doctors had been working around the clock treating hundreds of wounded children and adults.
"It looked like a scene from 'Emergency 911.' The hospitals were in full response mode," he said.

Beds were full of bandaged patients, surrounded by family members. The corridors were crowded with people trying to learn the fate of loved ones. Most of Womble's meetings took place in those corridors.

"They weren't long conversations," he said. "The doctors were visibly shaken and exhausted after working 24 hours straight."

While discussing supplies needed to replenish hospital stocks depleted by the onslaught of wounded, one doctor broke down in tears. "The experience is taking an emotional toll," said Womble.

The first of World Vision's initial $116,000 relief aid is scheduled to arrive in Belsan and Vladikavkaz on Monday. The agency will provide scalpels, plastic mattress covers, diapers for children and adults, blood pressure gauges, lung ventilation equipment, bedside monitors and, likely, new hospital beds. United Nations and other aid agencies are meeting needs for medicines, mattresses and other items requested by doctors.

However, said Womble, the deepest needs are not yet visible. "Over the next few days, energy will be focused on treating the wounded and burying the dead. People are still in a state of shock. But then, trauma will set in, especially with the children and adults who had been held hostage. For the next few months, they could have a serious problem with flashbacks, headaches, nightmares and other symptoms."

World Vision will work with other organisations to design psycho-social programmes for survivors. The agency has experience in nearby Chechnya, where six staff psychologists provide counselling to children traumatised by the war, and train teachers and parents to recognise symptoms of stress in children.

Virtually all of Beslan's 30,000 residents were affected by this tragedy, said Womble.

"This was Russia's September 11. Attacking a school is beyond the pale of understanding. It's been condemned throughout Russia by leaders of all ethnic and religious communities, and by Chechen rebel leaders."

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