Survivor’s tale of attack: I had already said my last prayers
Posted Tuesday, September 24 2013 at 01:00
Kampala- Even on phone Juliet Nakandi’s voice is heavy with emotion. Clearly the events of last Saturday afternoon at Westgate Shopping Mall in Westlands, Nairobi Kenya, have shaken her to the core. “I have never experienced anything like it,” she says, before breaking down.
Nakandi who has been in Nairobi for the past three weeks on a business trip was rescued from Westgate Mall at six o’clock Saturday evening.
The four-hour ordeal in the mall left her unable to sleep, with images of the injured and the dead running through her head.
“I still feel like the attackers are coming for me, like they are next to me again,” she says.
The day had started normally; a business meeting lined up and where else to have it than Westgate mall, about 2km from her apartment? After all, Nakandi had spent so much time there shopping, holding meetings and having meals throughout her stay and found it safe. More importantly, Westgate looked similar to the malls she had seen in the U.S. “I arrived at the mall at 11. 30 and took a seat at Art Cafe,” she says. The meeting went well and was winding up at half past midday. Her business partner was rising to leave when all hell broke loose.
“Everything changed in a second. The first explosion happened, there was soil and glass everywhere, people fell instantly, we took cover,” she says. Nakandi recounts how initially people thought it was an armed robbery. “Some people around said not to worry about it. That it would be over in five minutes. They said this is Nairobi these things happen. It was when explosions kept rending the air that we knew this was no robbery we were under attack.”
These explosions were so powerful they broke the floor and sent the soil flying everywhere. Glass was also falling off panes and according to Nakandi they went on for close to 30 minutes.
Patrons who minutes before were enjoying conversation and meals at the café were cowering under tables, others had been hit by what Nakandi thinks was shrapnel from the explosive devices and died instantly. Among them, Nakandi’s neighbours to the right and left.
“The gunshots came after the explosions, and they started from upstairs,” Nakandi insists. She also had a glimpse of two of the attackers strolled in through the entrance. “They had no uniform or masks and I could see them very well. One was a light skinned woman and the other a man had a keffiyeh on his head. They had very long guns,” she recounts.
Incredibly the gunmen who came to within a few feet of the terrified group cowering behind the flowers marking out the borders of the café never saw the group and went on to wreak havoc at Nakumatt supermarket right opposite. Seeing people die and the heavily armed attackers made Nakandi sure those were her last minutes on earth. “I crawled back to my chair to retrieve my prayer card and tablet. I started writing my farewell messages to my family, my last thoughts, messages to my bosses and who they should call when they find my body,” narrates the staunch believer who goes to Pastor Kakande’s Synagogue Church of All Nations.
For most of the time she spent on the floor, Nakandi could hear the sirens indicating the police and ambulances were outside but moving was out of the question. “We could hear the choppers hovering above but were sure the attackers were still around.”
Nakandi and other survivors crawled slowly avoiding the badly injured and dead towards an emergency exit from where they were escorted to safety. “I walked for a kilometre before realising my leg was swollen,” she says. As the siege at the mall drags on Nakandi is grateful that she was able to get out early and with minimal injuries, to begin the process of healing.