PANAMA CITY, Panama, Dec. 20, 1989 (UPI) - While thousands of U.S. troops scoured Panama for Gen. Manuel Noriega, Victoria Rodriguez wanted only to find her little girl.
Rodriguez fears her daughter was killed in the pre-dawn assault by U.S. soldiers Wednesday on the headquarters of the Panamanian Defense Forces in her poor neighborhood of El Chorriollo.
''It was a tremendous force,'' Rodriguez said of the attack. ''It was done in the most cruel way.''
Rodriguez cried as she recounted the fighting and the inferno around the defense forces headquarters. She told her story from a wheelchair in Santo Tomas Hospital, which was overflowing with the wounded and refugees.
''My little girl has disappeared,'' she said. ''I can't find her. She's not in the house. The house burned down.''
White smoke lingered in the sky Wednesday afternoon above the burned and destroyed Panamanian Defense Forces headquarters, and people at the hospital were highly critical of the U.S. forces for launching a fierce attack in a heavily populated area.
PDF headquarters was nestled in the midst of the El Chorriollo neighborhood, surrounded by homes and apartment buildings.
''The problem is that they are marginal areas with wood houses and they burn easily,'' hospital director Dr. Leonardo Diaz said.
Another woman in the waiting room said the U.S. show of force was ''like going after an ant with a bazooka.''
Dr. Jorge Urwud, a surgeon at the hospital, said most of the wounded arriving at the hospital in a steady stream suffered from bullet wounds from machine guns and revolvers.
Ambulance crews complained they were shot at while trying to help victims of the fighting, but said they did not know who was firing. Doctors complained they were running out of just about all types of medicine and materials.
Sporadic fighting continued Wednesday afternoon in the San Miguelito and Boca la Caja areas, where PDF barracks are located. Two U.S. helicopters equipped with machine guns circled over both areas, firing occasionally, and mortar rounds could be heard.
C-130 transport planes and jet fighters also circled the capital. Streets and sidewalks in most of the city were deserted and shops were shuttered.
In some areas, looters carted off appliances on hand trucks and in shopping carts down main thoroughfares. Buses were out of service and taxi drivers said most gas stations were closed.
Some people gathered on rooftops and hills with binoculars to get a better view of the fighting, but most Panamanians heeded radio warnings to stay inside.