Relatives of the hostages held captive for 58 hours in a Moscow theater last week are demanding answers as to why an antidote was not immediately available after Russian authorities gassed the theater to end the stand-off.
“That was certainly a great blunder, and many people are paying for that blunder with their health, and some even with their life,” said Alexei Arbatov, head of the Russian parliament’s defense committee.
Four hundred of the 800 hostages remained hospitalized last week, and 115 died from health problems after breathing in gas pumped into the building to force the surrender of Chechen rebels.
Russian authorities did not inform doctors what gas they were using. Doctors, therefore, spent a few hours testing different antidotes before they found something that worked.
This delay caused many doctors to feel powerless in helping the hostages.
“Those who died had swallowed their vomit or their tongue or their hearts had stopped,” said one doctor. “If only we had known beforehand. If they had told us that, it might have been a bit different,” he said.
An important factor in the stand-off, according to medical officials, is the amount of time the hostages went without food and drink. Officials said three days with no food or drink made the hostages more vulnerable to the side effects of any gas used.
The actual gas that was used remains a mystery, but U.S. officials are saying that the gas may have contained a chemical building block also found in heroin and other morphine-based drugs.
Accounts from survivors indicate that the effects of the gas were felt soon after it was pumped into the theater.
“The gas used was without smell or taste and was invisible. Soon after it was pumped in, I lay on the floor and remember nothing after that. I woke up in the hospital,” said Andrei Naumov, a survivor.
While the investigation continues as to why doctors were uninformed about the gas that was used, President Vladimir Putin issued a warning to any possible copycats.
“If anyone tries to apply such means to our country, Russia will reply with measures adequate to the threats in all the locations of the terrorists, their organizations or their ideological and financial instigators.”