Terrified civilians hide, send farewells, during Nairobi siege

Mary Kulundu and Fran Blandy
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The 20-hour siege in Nairobi left 14 people dead and dozens more injured

The 20-hour siege in Nairobi left 14 people dead and dozens more injured (AFP Photo/Luis TATO, Luis TATO)

Nairobi (AFP) - When an explosion and gunfire rang out at an upmarket hotel complex in Nairobi, people hid under desks, cowered in bathrooms or hunkered down in their cars, some hiding through the entire 20-hour siege.

Here are some of the stories from survivors of the attack in the Westlands district of the Kenyan capital that was claimed by Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab.

- Saying goodbye -

"Please tell my family I love them," 38-year-old Ronald Ng'eno wrote on Twitter in what he believed was his final goodbye.

Ng'eno, who was rescued after 11 hours in hiding, told AFP he was in his office where he worked as a communications officer for the Commission on Revenue Allocation when he heard "a massive blast followed by unending gunshots".

He and his colleagues tried to flee but quickly realised the gunmen were already inside.

"They started firing directly towards us and that was when we changed course and ran into the bathrooms located on first floor. Upon entering the bathroom, I saw a small opening in the ceiling and that's where I hid momentarily."

First he sent a tweet to police asking for help.

"But as the gunshots continued to grow louder and louder, my hope of seeing my family again faded by the minute and that is when I decided to tweet my last message to my wife and two sons," he said.

"If I die I love the Lord and believe I will go to heaven please tell my family I love them. I love you Caleb, Mark and Carol," his tweet said.

After a while, he climbed down from the ceiling to join about six others also hiding in the bathroom.

He continued to communicate with the police until his battery died at around 11:00 pm with the siege still going on.

"Luckily, police had told us they would knock on the door in a specific way so as to identify themselves and at 2:30 am on Wednesday, we heard the knock and we knew help had finally come."

- Saved by a flat battery -

Brian Gatimu, a tour operator based inside the sprawling office park, which also houses a luxury hotel and restaurants, believes he survived because his car battery died.

"I had left the lights on. Talk of God's doings," Gatimu told Capital FM News.

He said he was leaving his office but was delayed in the rooftop parking lot as he looked for someone to help him jumpstart the car.

Two minutes after he got it up and running, he heard a loud bang.

"I saw huge smoke billowing from the entrance."

He said he hid in his car, which has tinted windows, for two hours, calling for help on Twitter, before police officers came to rescue him.

"I stayed inside hoping all is well. I was shaken," he said.

- Barista to the attackers -

Reuben Kimani, a barista working at the hotel, said he recognised at least one of the attackers, having served him coffee in the run-up to the assault.

"I knew one of them because he had a big scar on one of his hands," he said. "I saw them. They shot six of my friends, four didn't die but two succumbed."

Before opening fire, he said the attackers had shouted: "Why are you killing our brothers and sisters in Somalia?"

He was rescued after several hours trapped inside the hotel.

- 'Every man for himself' -

Cyprian Otieno, a 23-year-old student, met a friend for lunch elsewhere in Westlands then decided to go to the Dusit where his friend wanted to grab a cocktail.

"All of a sudden we heard a weird BOOM followed by gunfire! Security guards at the entrance screamed 'get back, get back' in English and Swahili," he told AFP via Twitter.

He said some fled while others tried to hide, waiting about half an hour until they heard a voice shouting "kill them, kill them" in Swahili and more gunfire.

Terrified, a group of about 20 people fled towards the back of the hotel.

"Sorry to say at that point it was every man for himself. We were all together in the beginning but after a few minutes the attackers began shooting... I can't even really remember what happened afterwards."

- Westgate survivor caught in Dusit -

For Tracy Wanjiru, who manages a salon in the complex, it was the second time she found herself in the middle of a deadly Shabaab assault. In September 2013, she survived the Westgate mall attack while she was six months pregnant.

"I was working (in Westgate) when the attackers stormed in, it was not easy just like today," the 28-year-old told the Nation media group.

"All I can say is that I thank God."

After the first blast at the DusitD2 complex, Wanjiru says she saw "human body parts in the midst of fire flames flying in the air".

Writing briefly on Facebook after being rescued, she told friends she was safe but saying: "The images in my mind are just so scary."

- Anguish at the morgue -

But beyond the miracles, there were 14 people who died, with relatives waiting in anguish outside the morgue.

"Zacharia was a security guard, he was guarding the entrance of Dusit hotel, he was among the first to be exposed so I would be surprised if he has survived," said Francis Magutu, 35, who had been waiting outside the morgue since dawn.

"I am almost certain (he) is dead, but I want us to see his body, we want to be certain."

Another woman called Ida was also waiting, desperate for confirmation.

"All we ask is to see the body with the whole family, and be able to make arrangements for the funeral," she said.

Elsewhere, a tent set up for blood donations was also thronged with people, with organisers saying they would have to set up a second tent due to the high turnout.

"Hundreds of people came since this morning and they continue to come," said Kenneth Kamande. "We will have to put up another tent."

"I do it out of solidarity, because what happened is terrible," Rosemary Gathogo told AFP.

"I know I will save a life because of this."