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Trail of destruction at Mumbai hotel

By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Mumbai

Soldiers wait outside the Taj Mahal hotel in the last hours of the assault
Troops battled for three days to regain control of the famous hotel

In the forecourt of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel, ambulances queued up to take the dead to the mortuary, hours after the 60-hour siege ended on Saturday morning.

Boxes of latex surgical gloves were stacked in a corner and medical workers were going in with pails and disinfectant liquid.

Indian commandos were carrying out a room-to-room search for survivors, bodies or ammunition before they declared the hotel safe.

And outside, hotel employees ran around with what looked like guest lists trying to find out who is still missing.

It is not yet clear how many guests were staying at the 565-room hotel, one of Mumbai's proudest landmarks, when the gunmen barged in on Wednesday night.

Casualties are also feared in the restaurants and lobby, which were filled with people when the attack happened.

"There are a lot of dead people lying inside. It's a complete mess," whispered a medical worker. "The operation is still not complete. We are still very disturbed."

'Unimaginable'

Indian commandos began a new assault on the hotel early on Saturday. Flames erupted again from some parts of the hotel and intermittent gunfire could be heard.

It is not over till we inspect every nook and cranny and take out all the bodies and surviving guests
Hotel employee

A few hours later, Mumbai's police chief declared that the siege was over and the remaining three gunmen had been killed.

Commando chief JK Dutt said: "We are checking the hotel thoroughly now before we declare it safe. People may be still hiding in the rooms. We will try to bring them out.

"Guests should open the curtains of the room, so we can spot them from outside," he said, even as firemen in an elevated platform surveyed the rooms from outside.

I saw only one man, in hotel uniform, limping out of the property, helped by two others.

A little later, two controlled explosions were heard from inside the hotel. Police said that the bomb squad were destroying some ammunition found after the siege ended.

A bullet-ridden car outside the Taj Mahal hotel
Signs of fighting, like this bullet-ridden car, were all around the hotel

And after midday, one more loud explosion was heard, indicating more ammunition was being destroyed.

A fireman who went inside the foyer to douse a small fire took a photograph on his mobile phone of a dead gunman, who lay sprawled on his back on the floor.

His clothes were burnt and half of his body appeared to be charred. He said the stench inside was "unimaginable".

Proud landmark

The hotel, one of India's grandest, had fallen silent after three nights of constant gunfire and grenade blasts from gunmen and commandos.

Parts of the majestic old wing of the hotel were gutted. Dark soot enveloped the brown brick and stone walls. Even the windows in a small section of a part of the second storey had been charred.

Nobody knows quite how much of the hotel's elaborate décor - alabaster ceilings, hand woven silk carpets, a rare art collection - has survived the siege.

"It will be a while until we come to terms with the damage inside," said a harried hotel employee, who refused to give his name.

"It is not over till we inspect every nook and cranny and take out all the bodies and surviving guests."

The siege of the Taj Mahal hotel may be over, but the body count and the estimation of damage inside has just begun.

It may be several months, even a year, before Mumbai's proudest landmark on the sea comes alive again.

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