DHAMAR, Yemen (Reuters) - Yemeni rescue workers searched for bodies amid concrete debris and twisted steel wreckage on Monday, two days after air strikes by a Saudi-led military coalition hit a prison complex killing more than 100 people.
Yemeni Red Crescent workers placed corpses in white bags while bulldozers and other heavy equipment moved through the rubble to try to retrieve bodies before decay set in at the site in Dhamar in southwest Yemen.
“I was next to the window when I heard the warplanes and then the bombing. I passed out and when I woke, the window and the wall were above my back,” said Assem Mohammed Ismail, one of the survivors treated in a hospital ward in Dhamar.
“When the rescuers came, I screamed from under the mountain.”
The final death toll is still unknown, but the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen said on Sunday after visiting the complex and hospitals that over 100 had been killed. On Monday, an ICRC spokeswoman said rescuers will need days to know how many were killed.
The Sunni Muslim coalition, which has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthis for over four years in Yemen, said it destroyed a site storing drones and missiles in Dhamar.
The military alliance said it had taken measures to protect civilians in the strike, and the assault complied with international law.
Over the last four years, the Saudi-led coalition has come under heavy criticism from international rights groups following air strikes that have killed scores of civilians in residential areas, and at markets, funerals and weddings.
The Yemen Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said 52 detainees were among the dead, adding at least 68 detainees were still missing. The Houthi-controlled health ministry said 60 bodies were pulled from the rubble at the detention centre, which officials said housed 170 prisoners.
In Dhamar’s main hospital, empty and bloodstained white bags lay on the floor after workers stacked bodies in the morgue’s fridges.
Portraits of Houthi leaders and “martyrs” hung on the hospital walls and over the beds where wounded prisoners were treated.
“They started arriving after 1 a.m. and we completely panicked; Ambulances kept bringing in scores of wounded people,” said Majed al-Fadli, an aid worker at Dhamar’s hospital.
“Every 10 minutes there was an ambulance.”
The Western-backed alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after they ousted the internationally recognised government in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.
The movement, which controls most major Yemeni population centres, has stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in recent months. The Saudi-led alliance has responded with strikes on Houthi areas.
Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Editing by William Maclean