12 hours of terror for hundreds who were trapped in city’s building

A woman is reunited with her family after her evacuation from DusitD2 compound in Nairobi after a blast followed by a gun battle rocked the upmarket hotel complex on January 15, 2019. [Afp]
The bridge at the junction of 14 Riverside Drive marked the final sprint to safety for Ezra Kimondo after a 12-hour ordeal in the building struck by terrorists on Tuesday afternoon.

Together with around 50 people, he was among the last batch to be rescued by the elite RECCE Squad yesterday at 4am from Grosvenor Building adjacent to the 14 Riverside Drive complex, where dusitD2 hotel is located.

Though panting heavily, Kimondo’s joy was palpable as he waved and half-ran into the warm embrace of family and friends who were anxiously waiting for him at the other end of the bridge.

A normal Tuesday for dusitD2 patrons and workers in the complex that houses dozens of businesses turned into a day of horror after militants stormed the building, hurling explosives and shooting indiscriminately.

At least 14 were officially reported killed and scores injured in the afternoon attack.

Kimondo, who worked on the fifth floor of the building, described the militants as “ghosts” who were scattered everywhere.

Throughout the night and up to early yesterday morning, when Kimondo and others were being rescued, sporadic gunshots and loud explosions could be heard even after Interior Cabinet Secretary had hours earlier claimed that the situation was under control.

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In a night marked by a chilly wind and gripping fear, dozens of family members and friends gathered about 300 metres away from the hotel, waiting for their loved ones.

A survivor described the scene as “very bloody”. He said he was at the main entrance when the assailants struck.

He said he had a key to one of the back doors, which he opened to enable people to escape.

His elicited laughter from the people who had gathered at the scene when he said: “Eeh niko na ubao. Nitawapa stori baadaye.” (I am so hungry. I will give you the whole story later).

His happiness at being alive was evident, as was the relief of his folks, who had huddled together to pray for his safety.

His smile was evident too – and broad. After all, he had come face to face with death and managed to sneak out in one piece.

The people waiting for those trapped in the building sang gospel songs.

St John’s Ambulance personnel guided the rescued group from the hotel entrance into the hands of their loved ones.

There was talk that they would be sent to a trauma centre.

Kimondo, who was hiding in an office on the first floor, said no one could tell how many gunmen were in the building or their exact location since the scene was “a hailstorm of bullets”.

“After loud explosions, we headed to the exits, only to realise that’s where the shots were coming from,” he said.

“I went to the first floor since we used to have an office there so I was quite familiar with the layout,” he said.

Everyone then lay quietly on the concrete floor. Nobody was supposed to move or make any unnecessary sound, he said.

“That basically meant death. We had to dim the lights on our phone and keep them on silent mode,” he said.

Communication was only through texts, to inform their loved ones that they were safe, and ask for prayers.

The lights in the offices were also switched off.

“We lay still until the RECCE guys arrived. They had guns, so it was hard to tell if they were real police officers or the terrorists playing tricks on us,” said Kimondo.

One of the people hiding in the room, TV reporter Silas Apollo, confirmed that it was the police. Apollo and his camera person had been caught up in the attack while on a different assignment on the third floor of the building.

“They (police) were swift. They seemed to have a clear plan. They did not harass us. They just asked us to follow their instructions as we were led outside,” said Kimondo.

And after 12 terrifying hours, they were rescued at 3.30am.

“I did not know that concrete was that hard until I had to lie on it for 12 hours. When you leave the house in the morning, just pray. You never know what you might encounter,” said Kimondo.

Even after Kimondo and others who had been trapped in the building had been released, police were still engaging the terrorists.

There was an explosion and gunshots as the group was evacuated from the 14 Riverside Drive complex located near the University of Nairobi’s Chiromo Campus, which was used as a screening area.

They all lay down, not making a sound despite a drizzle.

Faith Chepchirchir, who also worked in the building, said the people stranded resorted to “movie-like” tactics to ensure their safety.

“We hid under desks the entire time. All we were concerned about was taking cover, especially with the sporadic gunshots and constant footsteps,” she said.

Most of the people rescued paid glowing tribute to RECCE, the elite Kenyan police unit.

Ms Chepchirchir said the officers were “really gentle” and it felt safe to be in their hands as they calmed everyone down.

“My worst fear was getting shot and dying. I am so glad I am safe. It is such a relief,” she said.

Politician Bonny Khalwale’s daughter Zindzi was one of those who were rescued.

The Standard spotted three ambulances taking out bodies at about 10.30pm on Tuesday as paramedics entered the building.

By yesterday morning, however, the scene had been cleared with less presence of police officers, their vehicles as well as fire engines.

Security personnel barred some of the people who had been evacuated from going back into the building to collect their belongings.

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14 Riverside Drive12 hour terror attackNairobi Terror Attack