BAGHDAD: Sheets of flame and smoke engulfed the street and buildings around Sami Aziz’s Baghdad shop, burning people alive in scenes he likened to “the day of judgement”.
Aziz and others are now repairing their stores at the site of a suicide bombing that sparked raging fires and killed 323 people on July 3, while also contending with the trauma of what they saw.
What was once a crowded shopping area has become a monument to the dead, where mourners light candles and dozens of banners bearing the names of victims hang from the charred hulks of buildings that held upmarket stores.
The blast took a devastating toll on survivors and the friends and relatives of the dead.
“Many wounded entered here… the shop was full of blood, but we cleaned it,” said Aziz, 40, in his clothes shop near the scene of the blast.
“The impact of families burning before my eyes is something that can’t be erased.”
One of his children was with him in the shop when the bomb exploded outside, and was deeply affected, Aziz said.
“Honestly, we are having nightmares now,” he said, adding that he now fears to leave his house.
“My future is unknown because I don’t have any protection… I am afraid that if I go out, I won’t return,” he said.
– ‘More than terrifying’ –
The suicide bombing, claimed by the Islamic State group, hit the Karrada Dakhil street a little before 1:00 am on July 3.
The area was teeming with shoppers ahead of the holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Life was “very happy” before the bombing, said Aziz, who filmed its aftermath from the entrance of his shop.
Flames streamed from a nearby building, rubble covered the sidewalk, and when he looked to the right of his shop, the street was blocked by a wall of flame and smoke.
“The situation wasn’t terrifying — it was more than terrifying,” said Aziz, describing it as being like “the day of judgement”.
“The psychological impact will remain, because I saw with my eyes the people burning here.”
The bombing destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of property and wrecked the livelihoods of shop owners, workers and their families, leaving people financially destitute as well as in mourning.
“A woman came to me yesterday. Her husband died, his store was burned, his money was gone, only she and her child remained,” said Aziz. “She said, ‘I don’t have money for milk.’”
Aziz is repairing his shop, which he said suffered an estimated $50-60,000 in damage plus some $100,000 in destroyed merchandise.
He said he was paying for repairs himself.
– Narrow escape –
Ali Mohammed, 28, was in his clothing store when the suicide bomber struck, but was able to escape out the back before the building went up in flames.
“As soon as I reached the street, the whole building was burned. I got out with only my clothes,” said Mohammed, who was wounded by shards of glass.
“We’ve seen explosions before, but they didn’t reach the level of fire so that in five seconds, it burns a whole place,” he said.
Mohammed said he lost around 150 of his friends in the explosion and subsequent inferno.
“My friends are dear to me, because I see them more than my family,” he said.
Mohammed said his family owns multiple stores on the street and suffered half a million dollars or more in losses. For now, they are only repairing one shop.
Volunteers helped clear out the rubble and make repairs to the shop, but there has been no assistance from the government, he said.
The store was all but empty except for construction implements and a safe that survived the blaze. The walls had been painted over, but the charring from the fire showed through.
“It is hard, very hard, but we must return to life; we can’t leave the country, and we can’t stop working,” Mohammed said. –Newsmedialive