'The crashed cars loomed in front of me'

Egyptian couple describe their ordeal after a chain-reaction accident on Saturday morning.

Egyptian Amro Abbas, 42,   lay in hospital bed in Al Rahba Hospital Monday, April 4, 2011, two days after they were involved in a massive traffic accident on Saturday on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai road. The 127-car pile-up claimed two people's lives and sent over 60 to surrounding hospitals with various degrees of injuries. (Silvia R‡zgov‡ / The National)

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ABU DHABI // There were 127 cars in the pile-up on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway on Saturday morning. Amro Abbas and his wife were in car number 126.

The Egyptian couple had left their three children at home with their grandmother. Mr Abbas, 42, was driving to Dubai to take his wife, Hemmat Mustafa, to her lecture at the Canadian University of Dubai, where the 40-year-old teacher had MBA classes.

Mr Abbas planned to pass the time by reading the newspaper and drinking a coffee at a nearby coffee shop until his wife was finished with her classes.

"I wasn't even speeding ... we had plenty of time to get to Dubai before her first class and I was driving around 100 kph," Mr Abbas said.

"Suddenly, I lost complete visibility, and the crashed cars loomed in front of me out of nowhere. I braked, but it seemed like the road was slippery from the dew or the fog or something. It was too late."

Mr Abbas's Toyota Corolla crashed into the car in front of him. He could turn neither right, where more crashed cars were at a standstill, nor left, towards the shoulder of the road.

"There were cars in the shoulder as well. The last car to crash, behind me, did not rear-end me - it hit one of the cars to the right of me," he said.

Saturday’s 127-car accident left one dead and 59 injured – not 60, as was earlier reported.

The deceased was identified as Saleem Ali Khan, 28, from Pakistan. He was a light vehicle driver, and his body was first taken to the morgue at Mafraq Hospital, then transported via Mafraq’s morgue ambulance to the main city morgue in Abu Dhabi.

Obaid al Ameri, head of the emergency and disaster management department at the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi, said the cause of death was severe head trauma.

“He died at the scene. We have finalised the paperwork and are waiting for clearance from the police in order to hand his body back to his company,” he said.

Only one patient remains in the intensive care unit. He is the only patient taken to Sheikh Khalifa Medical City from Al Rahba Hospital. Doctors describe his condition as critical, but stable. He is recovering from neck and spinal injuries and will require further surgeries.

Mr Abbas, a speech therapist who works at the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs, is recovering at Al Rahba Hospital, where 52 out of the 59 injured in the accident were taken for treatment. The other seven were taken to Mafraq Hospital.

The explosive force of his car's air bag caused Mr Abbas severe chest trauma, and because he is diabetic he remained in hospital for monitoring in case he suffered any internal bleeding. He expects to be released today.

But his wife cannot yet go home.

Ms Mustafa was struck by a car, most probably number 127, after getting out of her own vehicle.

The impact threw her into the air and she landed, unconscious, a few metres away.

"I saw her fly, and I saw her just lying on the road, covered in blood," Mr Abbas said.

He said he was afraid to move her until paramedics arrived, but cradled her head in his arms, oblivious to the blood soaking his clothing.

The couple were among the first to arrive at Al Rahba Hospital in an ambulance.

The accident happened at around 8am; the hospital reported that the first two patients arrived in their own cars at 8.35, then the first batch of injured began arriving via ambulance at 8.40.

That day, the hospital declared a "code orange major" - a hospital signal for external disaster.

Ms Mustafa did not suffer any broken bones and she is recovering from a multitude of cuts and bruises, and a mild concussion. She is expected to be able to go home within two days.

"We told our children that we'd be staying in Dubai on Saturday night, so as not to frighten them," Mr Abbas said.

On Sunday evening, however, the children came to the hospital to visit. "Our daughter [12] and son [11] were strong, but the little boy - he is only four and a half - he did not speak for 10 minutes.

"Then, when I told him that it's OK to be upset because I'm upset too, he burst into tears and wouldn't stop sobbing for a long time."

Mr Abbas said he can never forget the day "the world turned white from fog and all I could see is the red blood on my wife".

She remained unconscious all of Saturday and did not wake up until Sunday morning.

"When she woke, she was confused and could not even remember why we were heading to Dubai," he said.

"But slowly, all her memory is returning, and the doctors assured us that she will be back to normal in no time."

Despite the trauma his family is going through, Mr Abbas is adamant that he was very lucky.

"It could have been much worse, for the both of us," he said.

Eight or nine patients remain at Al Rahba Hospital.

"We discharged three on Monday morning, another three are expected to leave Monday afternoon, and a few more might also leave in the evening," said Dr Nellie Boma, chief medical officer of the hospital.

One patient, Khalid al Balushi, 31, will not be discharged any time soon.

The hairline fracture in his hip, which he sustained when a car hit the left side of his Jeep Cherokee, will keep him in hospital for a month.

A metal rod, inserted into Mr al Balushi's leg and attached to a 5kg weight so that his bone can set, has him bedridden. He will require extensive physiotherapy once the rod is removed.

The two friends with him in the car escaped unscathed, but the Omani national, who works in Abu Dhabi's civil defence department but lives in Dubai with his wife and two sons, was not as lucky.

"I have no idea how I got out of that car and walked to the side of the road," said Mr al Balushi.

"It must have been adrenalin and God's help; I don't know how I did it."