They were still digging for bodies in the ruins of the UN headquarters in Baghdad yesterday. No one was really sure how many might be down there in the rubble. "Quite a few more" was all the UN's spokesman, Salim Lone, could say, trying to help reporters even as he dealt with his own private grief.
Nobody knew who was in the building when the bomb went off. Nobody knew how many might be dead.
Bodies and clues were all they were searching for yesterday; no one hoped to find survivors. And as they dug, details of the horror inside the building began to emerge. Of how rescuers gave water to the UN's chief envoy, Sergio Vieira de Mello, as he lay trapped and dying under rubble they could not shift. Of how the explosion was so powerful it not only blew a 6ft-deep crater in the ground, but shattered the windows of the hospital next door, sending glass into the eyes of paralysed patients as they lay in their beds, unable to escape.
The picture that began to emerge from the ruins of the Canal Hotel was stark: a picture of a horrific bombing that was all too easy because the UN deliberately chose to keep its security light. And in a city that is full of potential Western targets with little or no security, everyone fears another bombing is coming. The only question is where.
"It was terrible," an Iraqi UN worker who did not want his name printed, told us from his hospital bed, his face painfully patterned with fresh stitches. "I was in my office. Most of my colleagues were in the office with me. All of a sudden I felt something very bad happen. I felt it, I didn't even hear it. Suddenly, there was a bright white light, then darkness. I thought I had lost my eyes. I shouted to my colleagues but none replied.
"Then I felt my shirt was covered in blood, I was bleeding very badly. I felt my way out. There was light and I knew I still had one eye, but only my right eye because the left one was bleeding and I could not see. I covered it with my hand, I thought I had lost it.
"I went to the lobby, I thought the whole building had collapsed. When I got to the street one of my colleagues led me home, I live near by. When my mother saw me she was shocked, and they took me to the hospital. I wasn't surprised. I expected something like this. There was only one Humvee outside. Our Iraqi security guards wanted to be armed but their request was rejected."
The American FBI has taken charge of the investigation, but there are few clues to show who was behind it. An FBI special agent, Thomas Fuentes, said yesterday human remains had been found in what was left of the Kamaz truck that contained the bomb, evidence that may bear out initial reports it was a suicide bombing. He said the device contained about 1,000lb of explosive, 500lb of it in a single block. To find heavy-duty explosives in Iraq these days is not difficult.
In the hospital near by, Samir Abbas, paralysed by shrapnel in his back since American missiles bombed a crowded Baghdad market several months ago, lay helpless while shards of glass from the windows and roof tiles rained on him. "The people who did this are shameless," he said. "After all our tragedy they added some more."
Liad Ahmad, a 16-year-old patient paralysed in a car accident, had to have glass surgically removed from his eye.
Michael Birmingham, an Irish humanitarian worker and peace activist who has been here since last October, was working on the internet in the building. "I saw really horrific things," he said. "Some people were in pain, unable to move, some were bleeding profusely. Some couldn't get themselves out so we helped them out. I was trying to keep one woman's airway open, so I went in the ambulance with her. It's really terrible and upsetting to see people you have known well and you don't know if they're going to make it.
"On the one hand the security was abysmal, and on the other, you had American soldiers with rocket launchers outside and American soldiers walking around inside, which made it a target.
"One time, Paul Bremer [the US administrator in Iraq and one of the biggest targets for terrorists] came here in an armoured stretch-SUV with bodyguards. Then he came in and he was standing next to me and I had a rucksack that hadn't been searched. I was next to Bremer in a room they obviously thought was secure."
Mr Loneagreed security was not tight. "We wanted to avoid that," he said. "We are here to work with the people of Iraq. We didn't want to be behind barbed wire."
But, he added: "We will not be able to carry on the mission as we have been doing so far." Most buildings where Western agencies are based are poorly guarded, with little protection against a determined suicide bomber in a truck packed with heavy explosives.
The UN's humanitarian operation has been suspended indefinitely. It is a dark omen for the people of Iraq, but Kofi Annan, the secretary general, was adamant said the UN would stay.
His Iraqi staffer, who joined the UN 15 years ago, said from his hospital bed: "If they ask me to go into work tomorrow I will go, because I strongly believe this organisation can assist the Iraqi people. We had just renovated the entire building. Now we will have to renovate it again. And we will do that."Reuse content