A quiet dinner, poolside drinks spelt unending nightmare for scores

November 27th, 2008 - 8:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Nov 27 (IANS) What was meant to be a relaxed dinner with friends or a drink by the poolside turned into a night of terror for scores of people, many of them tourists, as they ducked under tables, hid inside toilets or were fortunate to escape when terrorists sprayed gunfire and burst grenades inside two luxury hotels and a hip restaurant in the city late Wednesday night.Among those stuck at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel was Manuela Testonili, former wife of American pop singer Prince. She was among the 200 guests who were herded in the dark ballroom of the hotel for several hours, when terror struck Mumbai.

“We left everything behind, including purses and phones. There was a lot of panic,” she said after she was rescued hours later.

New York-based filmmaker Smriti Mundhra and her parents, who were staying in an apartment near Oberoi Trident Hotel when the attack happened, told CNN that they were all safe.

British lawmaker Mark Abell was among the lucky few to escape.

Held up in his room at the Taj Mahal hotel, British lawmaker Mark Abell told CNN that when he returned from dinner Wednesday night the security fences weren’t operating. “The hotel shook with an immense blast. Three or four minutes later, there was another large blast, the whole building shaking.”

Farhang Jehani, owner of Café Leopold, which was one of the places the terrorists attacked, was lucky to survive the shootout. He was inside his restaurant, set up in 1871, Wednesday night as terrorists sprayed gunfire on people. The cafe is a popular hangout with foreign tourists.

Lok Sabha members N.N. Krishnadas and other MPs Bhupinder Singh Solanki, Lal Mani Prasad and Gaikwad Patil hid under the dining table when two terrorists fired indiscriminately at them at a restaurant at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel.

Among the many people who were awaiting rescue of their family members from the clutches of the terrorists here was Bollywood actor Ashish Chaudhary, whose sister and brother-in-law are held hostage at the Oberoi Trident Hotel.

“My sister Monica and her husband have been inside the hotel along with maybe 40 other hostages. They came here for dinner last night, but now they are not answering any calls,” he told a news channel Thursday.

Australian actress Brooke Satchwell, who was in a bathroom at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel when terrorists struck, says terrified guests locked themselves in toilet cubicles while people were “being shot in the hallways”.

Contestants of the just concluded reality show “Bigg Boss”, who were to attend a bash thrown by model-actor Zulfi Syed, narrowly escaped the terror strike.

Zulfi Sayed had organised a party in the Sahara Star hotel in Santa Cruz Wednesday night. “When I reached close to the hotel there was a rattling sound. Initially, I thought there must be a wedding nearby, but when I reached the hotel I came to know that it was indeed a bomb blast,” Zulfi told IANS by phone from Mumbai.

The blast was in a taxi that exploded just two buildings away.

Among those present at the south Mumbai venue were Zulfi, Rahul Mahajan, Rakhi Vijan, Raja Chaudhary and Zulfi’s other friends, including actor Shahwar Ali.

The blast was part of a massive terror strike in Mumbai that has claimed at least 101 lives and left more than 250 injured.

There was no news on Mauritian national Chaitlall Gunness, the CEO of a state bank who was on a business trip to Mumbai and was staying at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, after the terror strike.

Gunness’ wife who was travelling with him was safe as she had gone out to make a call to Mauritius when the terrorists entered the hotel, according to members of her family in the island.

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