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Injury Toll Rises in N. Ireland

August 20, 1998

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Medical officials raised the number of people injured in Northern Ireland’s worst terrorist attack to more than 330 today, as the shattered town of Omagh buried the final eight victims of the car bomb slaughter.

Twenty-eight people died in Saturday’s blast in the religiously mixed town 70 miles west of Belfast, the deadliest attack in the three decades of Northern Ireland’s conflict. The Irish Republican Army dissident gang responsible, the Real IRA, is facing a security crackdown on both sides of the Irish border.

Meanwhile, reports emerged that the political activist most closely identified with the faction, Bernadette Sands-McKevitt, had her U.S. visa application refused last week after she visited the U.S. Embassy in Dublin.

Sands-McKevitt, sister of the late IRA hunger-strike leader Bobby Sands and common-law wife of the Real IRA’s reputed commander, met members of Congress during an American lobbying trip to oppose April’s peace deal that allows Protestants and Catholics to share power in Northern Ireland.

She denies that her legal pressure group, called the 32 County Sovereignty Committee, supports the Real IRA. But she had hoped to travel to New York and Washington again to criticize the peace accord. She claims the deal will ensure continued violence because it did not bring about the end of Northern Ireland as a Protestant-majority state linked with Britain.

Among those being buried today were Deborah Cartwright, 20, daughter of a police officer, at St. Columba’s Anglican church in Omagh; Esther Gibson, 36, a Protestant Sunday school teacher; and Elizabeth Rush, 54, whose shop beside the Kosy Corner pub was leveled in the blast.

Also being laid to rest were Geraldine Breslin, 43, a Catholic, and Protestant Ann McCombe, 49. The pair were good friends and colleagues at Watterson’s fabric shop who, like so many others, had been evacuated towards the car bomb by police because of misleading phone warnings.

Sixteen victims were buried Wednesday, including three boys aged 8 to 12 in the neighboring Irish Republic, and four others Tuesday, including a 12-year-old Spanish exchange student and his teacher in Madrid.

Medical officials, initially overwhelmed by the massive tide of seriously wounded brought Saturday to Omagh’s County Tyrone Hospital, confirmed today that more than 330 people were wounded in the blast. The previous estimate had been 220.

The most grievously wounded were flown by helicopter to hospitals in Belfast and Londonderry, Northern Ireland’s second-largest city. Seventy-six people _ including 14 children _ remained hospitalized today, including seven in critical condition.

At Londonderry’s Altnagelvin hospital, medical director Dr. Ray Fulton said many patients were only starting to emerge from sedation and semiconsciousness to find out about the disaster.

``It’s now dawning on them, so there is a big outpouring of grief,″ Fulton said. ``A lot of the staff are finding it very difficult to cope with these patients, but they are coping very well.″

Mental health nurses doing emergency duty at County Tyrone Hospital said they might need counseling as well. ``Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw,″ said Thomas McFarland.

``People were lying on the floor with limbs missing and there was blood all over the place. People were crying for help and looking for something to kill the pain,″ he said. ``You could not really be trained for what you had seen unless you were trained in Vietnam or somewhere like that.″

Nurse Marian Skeath said she faced the ``awful decision″ of what to do with a dead woman while her relatives watched.

``She had to be taken off the trolley she was on and put on the floor because someone else now needed the trolley,″ she said. ``Her son said, `Anywhere but on the floor,′ so we made her a makeshift stretcher of four small chairs.″

``I will never forget the look on her family’s faces,″ she added.

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