Dense smoke blanketed the cloud dotted blue sky, burning wreckages emitted an irritating smell and hundreds wailed over the bloodshed. A Tibetan teacher said she couldn't believe her eyes.
"I've never seen such cruelty before. How can anyone do something like this?" asked Zhayung, a Tibetan teacher at the No. 1 primary school in Lhasa, her voice still shaky and her complexion tinged with fear and sheer shock.
The school she worked at was among a wide range of targets of the planned sabotage that broke out in the Tibetan capital on Friday afternoon.
Vandals carrying backpacks filled with stones and bottles of inflammable liquids smashed windows, set fire to vehicles, shops and restaurants along their path.
Some rioters held iron rods, wooden sticks and long knifes, randomly assaulting passersby, sparing neither women or children along their trail of destruction.
"Classes were cancelled," Zhayung said. "I managed to escape from the school and hide in the building across the street, but some of my colleagues were stranded in the school for the whole night until police came to their rescue."
For many Lhasa residents such as Zhayung, March 14 stopped being just another Friday -- it was a day when the capital was left in chaos after an outburst of beating, smashing, looting and burning, which officials say, on ample evidence, was "masterminded by the Dalai clique".
The Tibet regional government said on Saturday at least 10 people were confirmed dead, including several from burns and gunshot wounds. Police managed to rescue more than 580 people, including three Japanese tourists, from the violent array of sabotage.
As tensions began to ease on Saturday, residents in the traditionally tranquil plateau city recalled the nightmares they went through.
'The mobs were crazy'
Tubdain, a local resident, said he saw a girl in red-clothing who appeared to be a Han Chinese chased and clubbed by six people on the Duosenge Road in the downtown area. "The mobs stoned her head and batted her knees with wooden clubs," said the 50-something Tubdain.
"Blood trickled down her face. She stumbled to the ground, crying and begging the rioters to let her go," he said. "They seemed a bunch of insane people, growling, stabbing, smashing and burning. It was so hard to believe what I saw."
Jin Hong, a clerk with the Bank of China outlet on Lhasas' Beijing East Road, suffered a broken pelvis after jumping from the second-floor of the building while trying to protect a cash box.
"About 60 rioters, all young men and women, attacked the bank with rocks and axes, and later set fire to the building on Friday afternoon.
"I hid in the toilet with three colleagues, but the mobs thronged against the toilet door. I had to jump out of the window, " she said.
Liu Kun, a nurse with the General Hospital of Tibet Military Command, said Jin was in stable condition, but she was due to receive surgery in two days. The hospital was offering free treatment to all riot victims.
Not only the Han Chinese, local Tibetans were also affected by the tumultuous violence.
Rawang, a Tibetan clothes vendor in downtown Lhasa, sighed at the dreary scene, once the site of bustling commerce. "It was once a shopping haven, but now it's all deserted, like a hell."
His shop was burnt to the ground. "Losses were grave. These people were crazy," he said.
Cering Yangzom, a retired Tibetan worker in Lhasa, said he planned to have tea with friends at the weekend, but the atmosphere was too tense for them to go out. "Nobody knew what the troublemakers were trying to get at," he said.
The regional government imposed traffic bans and increased the police presence to ensure social security.
The local government said they immediately informed the citizens of the sabotage through TV, calling for them to take precautions.
Qiangba Puncog, Tibet Autonomous Regional Government chairman, who is in Beijing for the parliamentary meeting, condemned the separatist activities. "We will severely deal with those who engage themselves in activities of splitting the nation in accordance with the law," he said.
"Their separatist plot will not succeed. It's the common will of the Tibetan people to maintain national unity, ethnic solidarity and social harmony," he added.
(Xinhua Lhasa Bureau March 16, 2008)