The World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said victims of the attack showed symptoms consistent with the possible use of a nerve agent.
The World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said victims of the attack showed symptoms consistent with the possible use of a nerve agent.

Khan Shaykhun is quiet today.

Lifeless animals lie in the streets and residents are still shell-shocked after seeing entire families die.

Two days after an attack in which it is now suspected a nerve agent was used to kill at least 86 people, families are burying their dead.

More than 400 people are still being treated for symptoms.

Doctors in Khan Shaykhun said the victims had pinpoint-sized pupils, were foaming at the mouth, and experiencing convulsions, delirium and suffocation – signs all consistent with the use of a nerve agent such as sarin.

TRT World spoke with four witnesses about what they saw.

Abed Al Kareem Noureddine, 30, and Khaled Nesr, 29 are "White Helmets" – medical and rescue workers with the Idlib Civil Defence. They were among the first to respond to the scene of the attack.

Abed:

"Yesterday at 6:30am when the war planes carried out the first strike, our team headed to the scene. Three men from the Civil Defence reached the scene first and they ran into the cloud of rubble. They didn't know that it was a chemical missile. They were screaming back at us, then they stopped and they lost consciousness. By the time we reached them, there was foam coming from their mouths. We evacuated our colleagues along with the other injuries.

I helped move two injured people before I felt I was starting to lose consciousness and had to stop."

Khaled:

"The observatory informed us about the strike in the northern part of the city. We headed to the scene around 6:40am and we were shocked at the sight of people on the ground, shaking and throwing up foam. It was hard to see that scene and we knew immediately that this is a dangerous gas.

We started to rescue the people. The first unit was suffering like the injured and couldn't function. Our colleagues were throwing up blood so we called for a second unit. When they arrived and saw that cruel scene, they were confused who to rescue first – their colleagues or the people. Hundreds of people were lying on the ground.

We rescued everyone with the help of civilians who moved the injured people in their private vehicles because there was a big number. Even if we had 50 vehicles, it wouldn't have been enough to get them out of that place.

We asked people for help and they came with their vehicles from all over Idlib to help because a huge number of people were injured, around 400. Thank God, with the help of the civilians and some families, we reached the medical centre and we didn't know how to start. We thought about spraying water on them, giving them first aid to help them breathe, and moving them away from the attack site. But there was so little we could do."

Doctor Firas Al Jundi is a member of the medical staff at Al Rahma Hospital in Khan Shaykhun.

"Today I went there to the city and spoke to the local people of the city. Today they buried almost 75 people in Khan Shaykhun alone. Some of the victims are people from around the city, who came there because it was a safe area. Those people will be buried in their home cities, so the total number is more than a hundred for sure. Also today, four more people were found dead in their house.

Some of the people like them died because they sought shelter from the air strikes underground – that's what people do usually, but actually the chemical gas is heavier than than air, so it sinks low to the ground, where people hide. When they do this, they become overexposed to a high concentration of the gas and they die very quickly.

We're trying to set up a special clinic to quarantine gas victims, but we don't currently have the special clothing to protect the medical staff from chemical exposure. It's not just the victims, the staff can also be exposed.

I've been to the location of the attack to collect samples from the ground, from the remains of the missile, and metal pieces from the body of the missile. Samples were also collected from the plants and dirt around the attack location, as well as from animals around the city who are lying on the ground dead.

But the truth is, we don't have enough equipment and labs to do the tests, but we are ready to provide samples for any international party or commission. And we are ready to receive any international investigators to the site and escort them in and out and ensure their security.

Right now, at the hospitals there is only enough capacity to receive minor injuries, but for grave injuries there is no capacity. We have three major hospitals out of service due to recent air strikes – Maarat al Numan Hospital, Al Rahma Hospital in Khan Shaykhun and Salqeen National Hospital. A number of injured people have received no medical attention. With those three major hospitals out of service it's really challenging. For any new casualties, we're trying to set up a portable medical hotspot in cases of emergency to handle any future chemical attack.

And yes, it's not over. Today there were additional air strikes on the city around 9:00am. Thank God, we haven't received any reports of people who were hit, the strikes were only on the outskirts."

Rouba is 25-years-old. She was born and raised in Khan Shaykhun, in Syria's northern Idlib province. On the morning of April 4th, she was at the home of her husband's family when first the missiles hit:

"It was about 6:45am. We were sleeping. The first thing I heard was the sound of the warplane over the city. When it's flying very low, that sound is very loud, it must have woken up the whole city. When the bombs struck, we heard several explosions, not just one.

The strike hit the very centre of the city, but we live in the eastern part. I didn't even know it was a chemical attack until my sister Shahad called me. She lives fairly close to the location of attack. She was with her husband and daughters, and they could smell something really strong in the air immediately and the children started coughing. She knew she had to take the children upstairs, because when there is a chlorine attack you must go to a higher place. The children were frozen from fright and she wanted to wash her daughters with water, but she was also afraid the water might be contaminated. They just took a few things and immediately went as far out of the city as they could.

We learned later that in the same district where my sister was, 53 people were killed. They were all from the same street. The next day we learned that another 15 more died overnight.

We fled our house by afternoon, that's when we heard that it's not just chlorine gas, something else. Also because there was another air strike – intensive air strikes that hit the medical point where people were being treated.

We wanted to get as far away as possible because our neighbours that went out of the city after the strike, to the town of Kansafra, told us that there were people at a medical point who weren't aware that they were exposed to the chemical were collapsing hours later, and died before they could reach the hospital. We know a child from the Al Yousef family, who died in this same way.

We went back to the city at sunset and we slept until this morning when the warplanes came again and started hitting the city. That's when we fled back to the agricultural lands in the outskirt of the city.

It's a funny feeling, kind of ironic, that if it's calmer, will that mean that we can go back to our homes, or will we die silently? But we hope to go home soon."

Reporting by Shawn Carrié and Rami Zien

Source: TRT World