They walked in their thousands, barefoot and in their pyjamas, streaming out of the eastern Gaza district of Shejaiya after a night of non-stop Israeli bombing.
They described hours of terror, as tank shells slammed into homes, with no electricity and no way to escape.
They called ambulances, but there was no way for the vehicles to get in under the constant fire.
So in the end, thousands of desperate residents fled on foot at first light, walking two hours or more into Gaza City.
They left behind the bodies of the dead in the streets of their neighbourhoods -- in Nazzaz, in Shaaf and in other parts of this flashpoint area between Gaza City and the Israeli border.
Ahmed fled with his wife and sisters-in-law and their children.
His daughters were barefoot and confused, sleepy as they walked into eastern Gaza City, their parents desperately searching for a safe place to take shelter.
"The shelling started last night, around 9pm and it just got worse and worse," he said.
"The bombing was all around us -- there was no light, no water, we didn't know what to do."
"We called the emergency services but they said they couldn't reach us, so we decided to leave on foot," he added.
- 'Ambulances can't reach everyone' -
At the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, ambulances arrived every five minutes.
But the wounded and the dead were also brought in by car and truck.
One man came in with his legs sticking out of a rolled-down window.
The injuries were mostly from shrapnel, with one boy peppered with wounds, his arms held out to the side, screaming in pain as he was brought into the hospital.
Many people were coated in a layer of dust that turned their faces grey and stuck to their blood on their clothes.
Doctor Said Hassan was standing outside waiting for the arrivals, after evacuating his family from the frontlines in Shejaiya the day before.
"The ambulances can't reach everyone, the ones who are coming in now were injured hours and hours ago and have either walked or been carried to places where they could be picked up," he said.
"We've been told that there are injured and dead people lying in the streets," he said.
"The is the worst I've ever seen it," added Hassan, 38, who has worked for Gaza's health ministry for the last eight years.
Ambulance worker Alaa washed down the inside of his vehicle with disinfectant and a blanket after bringing in another round of wounded.
"We had a pregnant woman who was injured, and on the road we found a man with his daughter so we brought them too," he said.
"But we can't get to many areas, there is too much fire, we got trapped at one point."
- Absolute terror -
Distraught men and women begged the ambulances to go to their neighbourhoods to pick up the wounded.
"There are dead people in our house, why won't you come?" one man screamed at Alaa.
"We're trying, we can't get in. We were fired on more than once," Alaa replied in frustration.
Residents still trapped inside Shejaiya described absolute terror.
"This is one of the worst days of our lives," said 23-year-old Marah al-Wadia, speaking by phone from the Nazzaz district.
"We've been sitting altogether in one room since last night just waiting for the shelling to stop so we can leave," she added.
"A shell hit our neighbour's house yesterday and we heard the sound of screaming but we couldn't come to their rescue and we still don't know what's happened to them."