Islamabad shaken, but Marriott firms resolve to reopen

September 23rd, 2008 - 2:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Sep 23 (IANS) With only nine days to go for Eid, the markets are empty and so are the restaurants with dread clamping down on the festive spirit. But in the proverbial Phoenix that will rise from the ashes of Pakistan’s worst terror attack, the Marriott Hotel was Tuesday already beginning the process of getting back on its feet.In a never say die spirit, Sadruddin Hashwani, owner of the hotel that was reduced to a burnt shell after Saturday’s suicide bombing that killed 53 people, has promised that the Marriott would be ready in less than four months.

“We’ll try our level best to open the hotel on the first day of the new year,” Hashwani told IANS.

The work has already begun Tuesday, with more than 100 labourers clearing the debris inside the complex. There were trolleys, lifters, pulling machines and human power toiling to rebuild the hotel virtually from scratch. Though the building smouldered for two days, the structure has been declared safe and sound by experts.

Several workers could also be seen whitewashing the hotel structure blackened by the fire that erupted after the truck bombing Saturday.

“This is being done to make it look better while the final paint would be done once the hotel is renovated,” said one of the managers of the hotel.

Hashwani has promised jobs to all his employees and given them double salary for the month of Ramadan. He has also promised to provide jobs to the blood relatives of employees killed in the devastation.

The painted frontage of the building might lift the spirits in this capital city, which appears to have gone back 20 years when only a few people were seen in restaurants and in markets after sunset.

Markets usually crammed with Eid shoppers were deserted and restaurants filled to capacity in the evenings were empty too as several planned Iftar parties were cancelled.

The second five star hotel in the capital, Serena, which already had a strict security system, has increased the number of guards. No vehicles are allowed to be parked within 200 metres of the building, and all individuals and vehicles are frisked or searched thoroughly.

“Yes, many parties for the next several days have been cancelled. And there are no walk-in customers,” said an official of the Serena Hotel, adding that despite heightened security many foreigners had cancelled their bookings.”

“There are no customers since the attack. On Saturday evening, when terrorists hit the Marriott, my shop was full of customers and many were waiting outside,” said a shopkeeper at G-9 market.

With Eid likely to fall on Oct 1 or 2 depending on the sighting of the moon, these are the days when the markets are most crowded.

“This is not for the first time that we’ll be not able to celebrate Eid properly. In 2005, there was an earthquake during Ramadan. In 1999 there was a train accident in which many were killed,” said another shopkeeper.

They are hoping that the mood will pick up in the next two to three days.

“I believe that security has been tightened and the trust of the people in government security will increase and they will start coming to the markets soon,” said Hussain Ali, a shopkeeper in Blue Area.

The Marriott bombing, in which the dead include the ambassador of the Czech Republic, used 600 kg of explosives. The impact of the explosion also damaged several buildings in a one kilometre area, including the Gulshan-e-Jinnah complex for government officers and their families. In all these areas, children are scared to venture out.

The fear runs deep in this Pakistan capital, where the Marriott was a favourite hangout zone and the centre of much activity.

When it gets up and running, as Hashwani promises, the scars may begin to heal.

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