By his third frantic dash down the stairs, with a wet piece of cloth over his mouth and a little girl in each arm, everything went dark for Khaled Abu Jaafar.
“I lost consciousness. I couldn’t breathe anymore; it was like my lungs were shutting down,” recalled the resident of Douma, in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta.
“I woke up about 30 minutes later and they had undressed me and were washing my body with water,” Abu Jaafar told Al Jazeera on Sunday. “They were trying to make me vomit as my mouth was emitting a yellow substance.”
Abu Jaafar is one of the survivors struggling to cope with the effects of a chemical attack on Saturday in the besieged town of Douma, the last rebel stronghold near the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Rescue workers and medical staff have said at least 85 people were killed in the chlorine gas attack – an accusation dismissed by the Syrian government as “farcical”.
Among those killed, witnesses said, were many women and children who had sought refuge in the basements of buildings to escape heavy bombardment by pro-government forces.
Abu Jaafar, a radio station worker, said that as panicked residents started running around after the attack, he rushed to one of these hideouts to check on his friends and help get people out.
“While people were in the shelters, some on the roof managed to see the gas bombs as they dropped from the planes,” Abu Jaafar said, describing what he said was green gas emanating from the canisters falling from the sky.
“Those who saw them rushed to tell everyone in the basement to evacuate,” he added. “I went up and down the stairs about three times to help evacuate children from the building.”