August 22, 2013
Um Qamar, 53, is a housewife from the conservative eastern suburb of Hammouriya, which is still under rebel control. Hammouriya is one of the towns reportedly attacked by chemical weapons in an overnight regime assault on Wednesday.
“Before the revolution, we lived together – me, my husband and our two daughters,” says Um Qamar. “We had a good, simple life.” Today, she lives in a blockaded village with her daughters staying at a relative’s house in Damascus. They communicate by phone but cannot see each other. Um Qamar describes the chaotic scene in her town to Nuha Shabaan in the hours following the attack.
Q: Describe what happened to you early Wednesday morning.
A: Around 3am there was violent bombardment around the neighborhood. We did not know where it was exactly. I said to myself that it might be the rebels fighting the security forces. I tried to sleep again, then after awhile woke up to people screaming. We started to breathe in something strange in the air coming from the orchards.
People started to put pieces of fabric on their noses and mouths, because they got news that it was a chemical gas attack. In the beginning, the smell was a bit lighter and the young men started to call women and children to go down to the basements and shelters and they closed all the open windows and escape holes.
I ran with my husband and other people from the town. They put us in a shelter and closed the doors, windows, and all holes not to make the gas reach us. The smell started to become stronger.
Most people with respiratory diseases died. The scene of crying and choking were horrifying. We stayed in the shelter around 24 hours with no water and food. After that the men brought us some food and water. Some of those who did not die from the smell died because of the low oxygen in the shelter.
After we get out of the shelter, we saw things that you can’t imagine. We heard about more than 3,000 casualties only in Hammouriya, most of whom were women and children. The death toll increased gradually. I went with my husband to the medical center. My husband felt so tired because of the huge amount of people. He started to breathe heavily and there was shortage in all types of medicine. Today we have a curfew.