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Health workers wear protective clothing before carrying an abandoned dead body presenting with Ebola symptoms at Duwala market in Monrovia August 17, 2014. REUTERS/2Tango


By Clair MacDougall

MONROVIA (Reuters) - A crowd attacked a makeshift Ebola quarantine centre in a rundown neighbourhood of the Liberian capital, throwing stones and looting equipment and food, witnesses said, and a health worker said patients had been removed from the building.

"They came in and took whatever they could take and took their patients because they don't want anyone here," a health worker, who declined to be named, said as a crowd gathered around the fence of the centre in the West Point neighbourhood late on Saturday.

"They threw stones," the worker said.

It was not immediately possible to confirm whether patients had been removed from the centre, which was housed in a school building.

Rocks lay in the street outside and rice was strewn on the ground in evidence of looting. Fearful health workers stood nearby waiting for an escort to leave the centre.

"My life is the most important thing now. I need them get out of here," the health worker said of the crowd, which later dispersed.

The incident highlighted the difficulty of containing the virus, which has killed more than 1,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia since the outbreak began in March. Four people have also died in Nigeria.

Inside the school house, Daniel Dahn and his children sat alone in the darkness. There was no sign of other patients in the building.

Dahn said his wife had died that day of diarrhoea and vomiting. He did not know the cause of her death but had been isolated because of the possibility that he and the children might have become contaminated with Ebola.

A corpse lay in a nearby room, though it was unclear whether the person had died of the virus.

Residents in West Point said they mistrusted the government and feared it might import the virus into the community through the health centre. Underlying their concerns was a lack of information about the virus and fears about the impact it could have on the impoverished neighbourhood.

Such social tensions have compounded the challenge faced by West African governments and international agencies in tackling the epidemic.

The death toll from Ebola is still climbing and the U.N. health agency faces questions over whether it should have declared the outbreak a "public health emergency of international concern" before Aug 8.

Health care workers fighting to stop the disease in often overcrowded and ill-equipped clinics often succumb to Ebola themselves. The World Health Organization says more than 170 healthcare workers have been infected and at least 81 have died.

Health care workers in Liberia have administered three doses of the rare, experimental drug ZMapp to three doctors suffering from Ebola.

(writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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