KABUL (AFP) - Doctor Shafiq Musadeq choked back tears as he recalled how bombs pounded a hospital in the city of Kunduz on Saturday, killing his colleagues who offered life-saving treatment to the war-wounded from all sides of Afghanistan's wrenching conflict.
At least 19 people were killed in a suspected US air strike on the hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the only medical facility in the whole northeastern region of Afghanistan that can deal with major injuries.
The bombardment, which came days after Taleban militants overran the city, reduced a part of the facility to smouldering rubble and left surviving doctors and patients reeling with shock.
"I was inside the hospital, working well into the night with other doctors to treat a growing number of patients with war injuries," said Musadeq, an Afghan doctor who survived the devastating strike.
"Suddenly thunderous explosions struck and it felt like the sky was falling down.
"I can't believe all the faithful doctors who worked night and day to save people's live are now gone," he told AFP by telephone, breaking down in tears.
MSF said some 105 patients and their caregivers, as well as more than 80 international and local MSF staff, were in the hospital at the time of the bombing.
"The bombs hit and then we heard the plane circle round," said Heman Nagarathnam, MSF's head of programmes in northern Afghanistan.
"There was a pause, and then more bombs hit. This happened again and again. Those people that could had moved quickly to the building's two bunkers to seek safety. But patients who were unable to escape burned to death as they lay in their beds."
The MSF facility is a key medical lifeline to civilians trapped in a deepening vortex of violence amid a large-scale Taleban offensive in Kunduz province.
The hospital was operating "beyond capacity" to treat patients wounded in recent intense battles after the Taleban captured the city for several days.
In a show of heroic resilience, despite the bombing, surgeries resumed in a makeshift operation theatre in an undamaged part of the hospital, a photo posted by MSF on Twitter showed.
"We are doctors, we save people's lives. I had never thought we would become targets ourselves," said Musadeq.
'SHOCKED AND EMOTIONAL'
The soot-blackened building that was bombed was filled with the smell of burning flesh and some bodies were charred beyond recognition, said Qiamudeen, a 31-year-old shopkeeper whose neighbour was killed in the strike.
"I was shocked, emotional and in tears when I reached the hospital," Qiamudeen, who goes by one name, told AFP.
Many Kunduz residents were too afraid to leave their homes to check on wounded relatives because of sporadic firefights between troops and Taleban militants.
But in a video that was widely shared on Facebook, one anxious young man looking for his brother broke down.
"Where is my brother Doctor Naseer? He works at this hospital and his cellphone is off," the man asks after looking around in the compound.
"He might have been taken to another hospital (for treatment)," responds another man.
The man wells up with tears and says: "No, he was here, right here in this hospital last night. Now I can't find him."