Local man escapes bomb blast
during Bush visit to Pakistan

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Arthur Welham of Brearley tells his story
to the Mytholmroyd and Hebden websites

Since I seem not to be able to be on line for long enough to send an e-mail, here is a little story of an explosive nature.

I was sitting on a settee in my room on the 7th floor of the Marriott hotel in Karachi when I received the phone call I was expecting, from our agent in Karachi, to say that he would be at the hotel 5 minutes to collect me in. This was at 8-58 am.

I went to the loo (as you do) and then went down to the ground floor. As I left the lift there was this extraordinary rumbling noise as if a large lorry had driven into the lobby. (Good that I was leaving the lift because if trapped inside I would have been there for 3 hours without knowing what was happening and with no air-con at temperatures of between 35 and 40 degrees).

The front windows in the lobby caved in and there was this tremendous fall of debris (which turned out to be mainly bird feathers, bird droppings and dead birds).

Although the immediate reaction was panic, there was almost a sense of normality as people continued to check out of the hotel and go into breakfast. Then we were told to stay in the hotel and then almost immediately afterwards to leave the building and cross the road to the open grassy area in front of Frere Hall.

Now universal panic set in. I was standing with an American of Asian extraction who was very impressed that the window in his room had just fallen straight down and not been blown into his room. At this point I realized that the bomb, which had exploded in the car park behind the hotel must have shattered the window in my room - what I had observed at the front of the hotel was only the result of the shock wave as protected by the bulk of the hotel building.

After about 3 hours on the gray area in front of the hotel we were allowed back in to drink water and/or coffee (I should explain that the temperature outside was around 35 degrees).

During our time outside we had observed the utter chaos of the response to this attack - the police arrived fairly quickly but the fire service took 20 minutes and it was difficult to assess responsibility between the police, the army and the Rangers.

After some time in the lobby we were allowed back to our rooms - this again was stupid. My room was completely destroyed and since I was on the 7th floor, people on lower floors must have been at least as bad. The whole room was littered with big shards of 15 mm thick glass and metal parts from the curtain fittings. Also the false ceiling had collapsed.

If I had been sitting on the settee as I was only 2 minutes before the blast, I would have got the plate glass window full in the back of my neck. The saving grace was that at 9 am most people were in breakfast or had left the hotel, otherwise the casualty level would have been horrendous. As it was there were several serious injuries on the car park side of the hotel, including an 8 year old Moroccan girl.

Apparently a terrorist had driven his bomb laden car into that of an American diplomat killing the diplomat and his driver. The two cars had been blown into the car park of the Marriott Hotel creating a crater about 3 feet deep and 8 feet by 6 feet in area. Initial reports accounted for 4 dead excluding the bomber but later reports included the bomber among the four - all part of the rather unsettling poor information available in Karachi. I don't know if there were 4 or 5 dead but the injury level was very high - around 80 seriously hurt.

The press reports which I read on the internet were extremely inaccurate. Contrary to the official reports, there was an initial big bang followed about 5 minutes later by a smaller explosion. In fact local accounts suggest that there were a further 2 smaller blasts which took out only shop windows. Later the same evening there were 2 rockets fired which fortunately fell into the river.

Needless to say, in future I shall try not to synchronise my travel with that of George Bush.

Now I am in Cape Town, South Africa. Although a back firing car this morning made more of an impact than I would usually expect, South Africa seems a haven of peace. And at least I can get a drink here!!


US diplomat among four dead in Karachi bombing
Independent, 2nd March


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