I prayed the hotel wouldn’t burn, says Mumbai survivor

December 4th, 2008 - 12:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Hyderabad, Dec 4 (IANS) Stuck for 18 hours in his room at Mumbai’s Oberoi Trident hotel while terrorists went on the rampage, Andhra Bank general manager S. Prabhakar Reddy kept praying that a fire shouldn’t spread in the building even as he heard grenade blasts and gunfire. “When somebody shoots you there will be agony for two to three minutes but when somebody sets a room afire, death will not come instantaneously. I was worried that terrorists might set the hotel on fire,” said Reddy, who was trapped on the 24th floor of the hotel.

Two Andhra Bank directors and five general managers, including Reddy, had checked into the Oberoi Trident hotel minutes before terrorist struck Nov 26. The meeting of the audit committee of the bank was scheduled to be held the next day.

“I checked in at 9.30 p.m. After checking in, three of the general managers wanted to go out for dinner. They invited me to join them but I stayed back. I was preparing for the meeting and going through the agenda papers,” Reddy told IANS.

“Between 10.30 p.m. and 10.40 p.m., I heard a blast outside. I peeped through the window but saw nothing amiss. I thought it could be bursting of crackers. I did not take it seriously.

“At 11 p.m., Ramgopal, the general manager of Andhra Bank in Mumbai, called me and asked if I was safe. He told me that terrorists had attacked the hotel and advised me to lock my room’s door,” he added.

Reddy switched on the television to see the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel on fire. He was afraid that terrorists might do the same to the Oberoi Trident.

“I switched on the television and saw reports that the Taj and Oberoi Trident hotels were among 10 places attacked by terrorists. I kept watching the television as there was nothing else I could have done. I informed other colleagues staying in the same hotel.

“I believe in destiny. Everything is uncertain. You don’t know what is going to happen the next minute. So I tried to be calm and kept praying to god for a safe exit,” he said.

“There was no noise outside my room. Nobody knocked on the door. I was hoping for some relief. At about 4 a.m. on Nov 27, news was flashed on a television channel that army commandos had reached the hotel. I was hopeful that something positive will happen.

“There were some biscuits and dry fruits in mini bar. I ate them. Drinking water was also available. So I kept glued to the television to know what is happening but the transmission stopped around 10 a.m.,” Reddy said.

His family in Hyderabad were worried and kept calling him every half an hour.

“By afternoon I started feeling a little tense. There was no information from the hotel management either about the attack or the precautions we should take. I was depending on my colleagues outside the hotel for information,” Reddy said.

“At 3.30 p.m., I heard blasts, which were probably coming from Oberoi. Around 4 p.m., I received a call from Bhaskar, our security officer in Mumbai. He informed me that terrorists have moved away from our block to another portion of the hotel.

“He told me that he would come to escort us out of the hotel. I asked him not to come as it could be risky but Bhaskar, an ex-serviceman, was determined. He reached the hotel and managed to convince the military personnel to allow him in,” he said.

Accompanied by a NSG (National Security Guard) commando and a hotel staff member, Bhaskar walked up the stairs to the 24th floor as the lift was not working.

“They went to the other rooms and brought out my other colleagues. We walked down the stairs. We did not see any terrorist or dead body. The hotel lobby on the ground floor was destroyed.

“After we came out of the hotel, we were escorted to a control room set up in the Air India building. Police officials asked us to identify ourselves. They also took our photographs before allowing us to leave. It was 5 p.m.,” Reddy said.

The banker will continue to visit Mumbai despite the terror attacks, which claimed at least 183 lives.

“We have to keep going. One does not stop driving a vehicle because of road accidents so why stop going to a place because of such an attack,” said Reddy.

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