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Gas clouds Moscow rescue

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But by Sunday evening, Andrei Seltsovsky, chairman of the health committee of the city of Moscow, admitted 117 had died from the gas. The released hostages were still being held incommunicado in Moscow hospitals, and desperate relatives were not permitted to see them. Dr. Seltsovsky said that 646 of the freed hostages were still in the hospital, 150 were in intensive care, and 45 "in a grave condition."

President Putin met with released hostages in Moscow's Sklifisovskovo Hospital on Saturday, and later declared Monday as a national day of mourning for victims of the tragedy.

"I would like to address primarily the relatives and friends of those killed: We could not save everyone," Mr. Putin said in televised remarks later. "Please forgive us."

Olga Zhabatinskaya, waiting outside the gates of Sklifisovskovo Hospital Sunday afternoon, said she just wanted some news of her mother, Tatiana, who was among the hostages. Many of the freed hostages are confined inside a wing of the hospital, guarded by special forces who have orders not to let anyone in. "We've checked everywhere, even in the morgue," says Ms. Zhabatinskaya. "We can't find out anything."

Russian medical authorities at first suggested that some hostages may have expired after their release from heart trouble, stress, depression, and hunger, but offered no further details. A reporter for the online newspaper Gazeta.ru claimed to have seen scores of bodies in two Moscow hospitals, only four of which had bullet wounds. And the liberal daily Kommersant said early Sunday that "many unofficial sources say the majority of hostage deaths were caused by toxic effects of the gas and not gunshot wounds, though the authorities continue to deny this."

Russian authorities have refused to name the gas used in the theater, explaining only that it was an experimental "neuroparalytic" agent developed by the FSB security service for use in hostage situations. Unofficial sources, quoted by Echo Moskvi independent radio, say the gas may contain the powerful tranquilizer Valium, or a nerve agent such as sarin or VX. On Sunday, the US government officially requested information about the substance used, noting that at least one American citizen is among those still hospitalized and suffering from the gas.

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