NEW DELHI - Gunshots rang out and the crowd in the famed Taj Mahal hotel panicked, but five excruciating hours later, a private South African security guard said his team succeeded in evacuating about 120 guests.
"We heard some gun shots. We barricaded the restaurant and we moved everybody into the kitchen," Faisul Nagel, who happened to be on the 25th floor of the hotel tower when the attack began, said.
As gunfire and explosions rattled the five-star hotel, he and the six others who are from South Africa, rushed the guests from the posh dining room lined with windows and glass doors.
"We heard some loud noise, so we opened up the window and we saw people running all around the place," Nagel said.
"We realised there was a terrorist threat."
Armed with knives and meat cleavers, his team - which is in India to provide security for the Indian Premier League's cricket championships - led the guests into the kitchen and later into a conference room that provided better safety.
Using tables and refrigerators to barricade themselves in, Nagel said they armed themselves with the only weapons they could put their hands on - knives and meat cleavers.
"We basically put the lights off in the restaurant just to create an element of surprise. And we armed ourselves with kitchen knives and meat cleavers and we directed ourselves to any entrance that led to the restaurant," he said.
"We monitored the two lifts and we could see there was activity on those lifts.
"It kept coming up and down [and] we waited in case anybody came up," Nagel said.
"They did not come up, but there was a lot of activity.
"We heard an explosion and automatic gunshots," said the guard from Nicholls Steyn and Associates.
Bob Nicholls, the security firm's British director, was also in the hotel during the attack on Wednesday, when at least 100 people were killed.
"It was difficult to get information in the first few hours," he said.
Their team finally made contact with the hotel's security chief. Faced with the threat of a fire engulfing the hotel, with a blaze already raging in part of the original hotel, they decided to evacuate.
"The people were very afraid. We briefed them about what we were doing," Nagel said.
"I told the security manager of the hotel to tell the police not to shoot," he said.
"We walked everybody down the fire exit at the back of the hotel very quickly. We got them out safely," Nagel said.
He later left the site after making sure that all of the people he evacuated could find shelter in other hotels or with friends and family.
Dozens of women were among the guests, including a 90-year-old grandmother who had trouble walking.
They had no choice but to carry her out in a chair, which they carried down 25 flights of stairs.
Some of the guests told television channels that as they exited the hotel early yesterday, they received calls from hotel security asking them to switch off their lights and remain in their rooms.
"It plunged into darkness soon, and I locked myself up in a toilet," said one unidentified woman who was later rescued by firefighters through a window.
A Briton said the terrorists were asking people whether they had British or US passports, adding that he escaped because he did not reveal his nationality.
"The terrorists were not more than 20 to 25 years of age. They were dressed in jeans and T-shirts but were very aggressive in their demeanour. They kept screaming that they wanted anyone with a British or American passport." - Sapa-DPA