WITNESS - In the wreckage of Mumbai's Trident hotel

MUMBAI Sat Nov 29, 2008 6:47pm IST

A view of the lobby of Trident-Oberoi hotel, a day-after the operations to dislodge militants ended in Mumbai November 29, 2008. REUTERS/Gregory Beitchman

A view of the lobby of Trident-Oberoi hotel, a day-after the operations to dislodge militants ended in Mumbai November 29, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Gregory Beitchman

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MUMBAI (Reuters) - Standing outside the jammed office door of Mumbai's battered Trident-Oberoi Hotel, the thought hits us at about the same time: what if it's blocked by a booby trap?

Simon Hartley, a Briton working in the construction industry, and I have come back to retrieve our belongings from the Trident, a home-away-from-home for us both, after elite troops ended a harrowing siege by Islamist militants.

A concierge has escorted us up to the 12th floor. The door to Simon's office looks as if it has been forced. The concierge and a guest services manager assure us the floor has been cleared, but we're not convinced. We want them to check again.

"I think it's a good idea", Simon agrees.

The guest manager calls downstairs. "Room 1208 has been opened and checked, please confirm," he asks. "National Security Guard officers have inspected every room," comes the reply.

"There were no terrorists on the 12th floor," offers the concierge. Satisfied, we stand back as locksmiths arrive.

Simon has been working and living in the Trident-Oberoi hotel for about six months.

"I had gone out with a friend and was coming back when I heard what happened. I was lucky ... a lot of people and staff I know have lost their lives", he says.

Well-armed gunmen struck at the heart of India's financial centre late on Wednesday, laying siege to the Trident-Oberoi, the historic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and a Jewish centre.

The death toll stood at 195 after Indian commandos killed the last of the gunmen holed up inside the Taj on Saturday.

BROKEN GLASS, BULLET HOLES

Soon after the last shots were fired at the Taj, I was sitting back in the lobby of the Trident-Oberoi after receiving a call from the hotel to come and get our belongings.

About 12 hours earlier, hundreds of people had been trapped inside but now immaculately dressed staff are cleaning up broken glass. Bullet holes pepper the walls and the sea-facing windows have been blown out.

I passed through the same lobby on Wednesday on the way for a haircut, just two hours before the attacks began.

Uniformed staff stand at the checkout counter. Some guests pull out credit cards to pay room bills.

In the lobby, heavily armed police with National Security Guard badges speak with hotel officials in hushed voices.

The concierge takes Simon and me to the elevators. Surprisingly, they work. A thick bloodstain greets us in the 12th floor elevator lobby.

"One guest was shot and then came to the 12th floor. One of our staff then brought him out through the staff entrance," the concierge says.

Once the doors are open we find papers strewn around a room next door, but Simon's room is untouched. Wednesday's newspaper lies neatly on a table.

Simon gathers up documents and a printer.

"Wow. Everything looks intact and I have to get back to work," Simon says. "This won't be good for general confidence but things weren't too good for the economy here anyway."

Simon packs up his things and calls an assistant. They still have to get ready for a presentation, he says.

Back in the lobby, a guest relations manager wearing a sari guides us towards the main entrance. Soldiers in helmets stand on a balcony scanning the area.

Shattered glass has been swept up, broken windows and doors replaced by large white boards. Off to the side is a lonely looking metal detector. I ask the guest relations manager if new security measures will be put in place.

"Rest assured they will," she answers.

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