The devastation that remained largely hidden from the media by heavy security at the Westgate mall has finally been exposed.
Forsaken handbags, tattered prayer books, bullet holes too numerous to count and a rosary mark the entrance to what was only three weeks ago a thriving Nakumatt supermarket and the flagship business at the mall.
The abandoned Catholic prayer book perhaps points to a victim who, suddenly staring death in the eye, made a final effort to make peace with God, or pray for a miracle. It’s not known who the owner was.
The sturdy pillars designed to support the upscale mall are now pocked with bullet marks, an evidence of the senseless shooting spree by the terrorists, and in retaliation the police and security forces who fought them.
Everywhere you turn are bullet holes, testaments to the prolonged firefight between security forces and the attackers as they tracked each other across the mall and dodged one another in a macabre dance of death.
There is a gaping hole where children had been taking part in a cooking competition. The cavernous space begins at the top of the building and descends through all four floors.
Now a pile of twisted steel and concrete rubble blown up at some point in the battle is deposited in what used to be the basement parking space.
This was a result of a major explosion. KDF soldiers, who were in the building battling the attackers when the major explosion tore through the building, have not yet revealed whether they or the terrorists caused it.
Westgate was a classic modern shopping mall with escalators and lifts, glitzy lighting and the sound of running water from fountains created to complete the look and feel.
Now many of the walls are charred, their sheen licked away by the flames of a fire that started on the third day.
Shards of glass and mangled metal frames have replaced the large display windows of the many shops, another sign of the four days of horrendous terror that gripped Kenya and the world’s attention.
Dried blood stains the floors where those who were shot lay waiting for help, and those fatally wounded lost their lives.
The soothing sounds of piped music that always played at the mall have been replaced by earth-rending excavators that seem to shake every bit of what’s left of the building, and the voices of construction workers helping to cart away the rubble in a final attempt to find bodies that may still lie beneath.
Investigators and those carting away the rubble have to wear masks to keep their nostrils covered and reduce the overpowering stench of rotten food in restaurants and the supermarket and what everyone in there appeared to dread – bodies of those who never made it and still remain under the rubble. On standby are undertakers waiting, in case a body is pulled out.
Investigators and forensic experts appeared frustrated, losing hope by the minute of ever finding another body or any useful evidence when the Sunday Nation visited the scene undercover on Thursday. It is still not clear, going by their conversations, who blew up a section of the building, or if the terrorists were still there or had already vanished.
It’s a tedious process. The rubble is first shovelled onto a small truck and moved outside where there is light. Forensic experts move in to sift through it for any bit of evidence they might come across before it is reloaded onto the trucks and carted away. Several casual workers are on standby to help with the loading.
An investigator expressed his frustration at the slow recovery process. “Even the US and the UK recalled their initial team. They brought in a new team, but they have not done much. We are in week three. Things here are difficult. We have only recovered two KDF soldiers’ bodies and their guns, nothing else.”
Near the Nakumatt supermarket was a shop that sold Samsung phones, mainly high-end models going by the empty cartons that are strewn about. The shelves are now empty.
The cash tills inside Nakumatt and many of the shops are sprouting from their shelves, and only coins lie around, perhaps evidence that someone had taken away the bills. At least two ATM machines appeared to have taken quite a beating from numerous bullets.
“This work must end this week; we are under a lot of pressure to produce results,” an investigator said.