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Dusit hotel survivors recount ordeal

Thursday January 17 2019

 DusitD2

A woman is reunited with her family after her evacuation from DusitD2 compound in Nairobi on January 15, 2019 following a terrorist attack. PHOTO |YASUYOSHI CHIBA | AFP  

NATION TEAM
By NATION TEAM
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Lightning, so goes a popular saying, does not strike the same place twice.

For Tracy Wanjiru, however, this statement could not be more wrong because, having survived the Westgate mall attack five years ago when she was six months pregnant, she was once again caught up in another terrorist incident on Tuesday afternoon at the DusitD2 hotel and office complex.

The last thing Ms Wanjiru expected when she went to work on Tuesday morning at the complex was that she would be caught up in another terror attack.

“I was working at Westgate when terrorists attacked the mall in 2013. Just like today, I managed to survive. I can only thank God,” she told the Nation.

EXPLOSION

Ms Wanjiru, 28, a manager at a salon in the complex, narrated that a few minutes past 3pm on Tuesday, gunshots rent the air near where she worked.

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She peeped outside and the next thing she heard was a loud explosion.

The explosion, she says, was so loud that she was knocked out for a couple of minutes.

“I went back to the salon and told my colleagues to be keen because we were under attack. They dismissed me at first but when they heard wails and screams, everyone went into hiding,” she said.

Unlike in the Westgate attack, where she was located far away from the attackers, Ms Wanjiru said she was close to the Riverside attackers and relied on her previous experience to save herself.

After the explosion, she saw “fire flames flying in the air”.

HELP

It is from her hiding place inside the salon that Ms Wanjiru used her Westgate attack experience to call for help through social media.

Standing separately about 200 meters from the complex together with a battery of journalists, *Innocent Mutiso and his colleague *Washing Otieno (not their real names) wondered when they would return to work at the Dusit hotel.

The two were initially hesitant to talk to the media and promised to open up only after assurance that their real identity will not be revealed.

“There was indiscriminate shooting. It was horrible. Those people (terrorists) are beasts and have no mercy at all. It will take a long time for me to get over it,” Mr Mutiso said.

“It is by God’s grace that I am alive today and able to share what happened,” he said.

LUCKY

His colleague, Mr Otieno, said he was just about to serve a client at the restaurant when he heard several gunshots and took cover in the toilet together with a few other people.

A Senegalese national, Mr Mamadou Dia, was thanking his lucky stars after a miraculous escape.

Mr Dia, a communications consultant for a Qatari company, had arrived in the country on January 5 and was booked at the Dusit D2 hotel for a nine-day stay which was to end yesterday.

“I had just finished my lunch at the Secret Garden Restaurant and was walking back to my room at the hotel,” he recounted on Wednesday, explaining his lucky escape from the jaws of death.

“The first blast went off just as I stepped into the hotel followed by rapid gunfire and then total confusion,” he told the Nation, adding that he had witnessed one of the waiters at the restaurant being shot.

PANIC

Sensing danger, his first instinct was to dash into his colleague’s room to deliver the devastating news.

“I arrive there and he tells me he had heard the loud bang and knew that things were not okay,” he explained.

Dashing back into the hotel lobby, they encountered confusion and panic as people ran helter-skelter as the premises suffered intense gunfire.

Hotel security stopped people from leaving, saying the situation was dangerous.

At least 15 of the visitors at the hotel, mainly foreigners, and about two members of hotel staff, were taken to the first floor building where they went into hiding.

“I was to travel on Tuesday. I have rescheduled my travel to today (yesterday) but I doubt I will make it because all my travel documents and luggage remain at the hotel. I only hope this operation will end so that I can get my travel documents,” Mr Dia said.

GUNFIRE

He said he couldn’t tell the number of assailants as he saw only one of them. “He was a young guy, clean shaven and it would be difficult to even think that he was a terrorist.”

For Ezra Kimondo, it was business as usual as he reported to work early in the morning at around 8.30am ready for his daily routine as the head of Customer Service at Brighter Monday, on the fifth floor of Grosvenor building.

He had little inkling as to the events that would take place in a matter of hours, and which would leave a permanent emotional and psychological scar on his life.

He said that he had gone for lunch and resumed his duties when hell broke loose at around 3pm.

“No one saw it coming. At around 3.30pm we heard a blast — actually three bangs — and it was suddenly chaotic. The gunfire was particularly intense near the exit, forcing us to come back to the building on the first floor,” he said.

SOCIAL MEDIA

He recounted how, after the gunfire became too much, they resorted to using WhatsApp and Twitter to communicate with their families.

“The first person I texted was my father who told me to stay still until security officers arrived,” he recounted.

Eventually at about 3.20am on Wednesday, the security officers, who were moving floor by floor, reached them, identified themselves, and then got them out of their hideout.

“There was no way of telling the identity of the attackers due to the confusion and heavy gunfire,” he said.

For Faith Chepchirchir, the sounds of explosions and gunshots amid plaintive wails are permanently etched in her mind.

“We heard a loud bang in the adjacent building. It sounded like 10 tyres bursting at the same time. There was a lot of confusion as everyone tried to run towards the gate but we were forced back,” Ms Chepchirchir said.

HIDING

She said they quickly closed the doors as the terrorists made their way to the top floor and started shooting.

“We were hiding under the desk and chairs before police arrived. At first, we could not believe it and they had to identify themselves for us to feel safe enough to come out,” she said.

TV journalists Dickson Onyango and Sylas Apollo, both from NTV, were among the first survivors to emerge from the building as they recounted the harrowing tales of the 12 hours they spent hiding from the killers.

Mr Apollo recounted how a normal interview with members of the Commission for Revenue Allocation (CRA) at their Grosvenor Suite offices in Riverside soon turned into an ordeal that he would want to forget quickly.

TERRIBLE

He said that after the ambush began, they were forced to cram into a toilet cubicle on the second floor of the building together with 15 other people.

At least 50 other survivors made their way out of the building at about 4am after being rescued from the first floor of the office block.

Visibly shaken, the reporter described the experience as horrific and the worst one he has ever gone through in his life.

Reports by Samwel Owino, Collins Omulo, Nyaboga Kiage and Ibrahim Oruko