Dozens were killed when Russian troops stormed a school Friday in a chaotic battle to free hundreds of parents, teachers and children who had been held hostage for 53 hours by Chechen separatists.
Naked children ran for safety, screaming amid machinegun fire and explosions while attack helicopters clattered overhead.
Julian Manyon, a reporter for Britain's ITV television news, said his cameraman had seen up to 100 bodies in the gymnasium of the school in Beslan, in the North Ossetia region adjoining Chechnya, after the hostage-takers left:
"Our cameraman ... told me that in his estimation there are as many as 100 dead bodies, I am afraid, lying on the smoldering floor of the gymnasium where we know that a large number of the hostages were being held," reports Reuters.
As many as 1,025 beds have been made available in Vladikavkaz hospitals for victims of the Beslan terror attack, an official in the North Ossetian Health Ministry told Interfax on Friday.
There are a total of 128 wounded in the city's hospitals, 70 of them in the ambulance center, eight in the North Ossetian republic's hospital and 50 in the children's hospital, he said.
According to SMH about 100 Russian special forces troops entered the building amid heavy gunfire. About an hour after the firing broke out, Tass news agency reported that the troops were in full control of the school and five of the armed hostage-takers had been killed, but 13 were reported to have escaped. Some were fleeing towards a rail junction to the south of Beslan.
Smoke billowed from the school and troops were seen on its roof, but reports said an intense battle was still under way. Officials said some 500 people had been held in the school but hostages released the previous day said the number could be nearer 1500. Only hours before the fighting broke out, Russia had insisted it would not resort to force to free the hostages.