Page last updated at 03:00 GMT, Thursday, 29 October 2009

'An attack of sheer hellishness'

Injured child from the Peshawar bombing
The authorities struggled to cope in the aftermath of the bombing

As people in the Pakistani city of Peshawar recover from Wednesday's devastating car bomb attack, the BBC's Abdul Hai Kakar recounts his experience as one of the first journalists to arrive on the scene.

What made this attack even more terrifying was that it was the first in which most of the victims were women and children.

It took a long walk through the dark and narrow streets of the historic Qissa Khawani bazaar to reach the site of the blast and understand the sheer hellishness of what took place there.

The first thing I saw was two rescue workers dragging out a body that was completely charred.

It was the first time I had seen a person so recently burnt - smoke was still emerging from the corpse.

People make a way for ambulance to collect injured people at the site of explosion in Peshawar

The spot was a convergence of streets - a place so narrow two small cars could not pass one another side by side.

The surrounding buildings, from the colonial and pre-colonial era, were tilting to one side - making it difficult to see the end of the street.

The area itself soon became full of journalists and onlookers.

This made the job of relief workers more difficult, as they tried to pull out the dead and injured.

Firefighters were also on the scene trying to douse the flames in two buildings.

Some time after I arrived, one of the three-storey buildings collapsed completely.

Many shops in the markets nearby were destroyed.

However, there were no injuries here as most of people working or living in the area had dispersed after being warned.

'Alive or dead?'

From time to time, I saw rescue workers collecting body parts and depositing them in a nearby ambulance.

Hospital staff among the bodies of a deadly car bomb blast

As I was still trying to take in the full horror of the scene, a man nearby started screaming: "Where is my son?"

When I questioned him, he told me that he owned a nearby shop which sold nan (baked traditional bread).

"My children were there - are they alive or dead?"

I told him to check at the hospital and he rushed off.

A while later, while I was still there, paramilitary troops arrived on the scene. They fired in the air to disperse the large crowd.

At that point I left and went to the nearby Lady Reading hospital.

When I arrived, a line of bodies was lying in the mortuary and people were checking it for loved ones.

All of a sudden, a man started screaming: "It's him, it's him."

Two other men who were with him started sobbing.

The body around which they were standing had a blackened face with features I could not distinguish.

Because of a lack of space, a lot of bodies were lying on the floor.

On one bed, I saw the bodies of two women lying together.

They had been burnt beyond recognition and were unclaimed so far.

In places, sacks were lying with body parts in them.

Throughout, the mortuary was deluged by the wails of the family members who went from body to body in search of loved ones.

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