- Multiple bombings hit Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday
- As it happened – devastation in Sri Lanka
On Sunday morning, Akshat Saraf was packing his bags in his room on the 25th floor of the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo with his wife and 11-month-old baby.
The next thing he knew, a massive blast rocked the building.
The aftermath of the attack on the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo on Sunday.Credit:AP
"We suddenly heard two explosions, very loud explosions. Even though we were on the 25th floor, our room started shaking quite profusely," he said.
Mr Saraf scooped up his infant daughter, his wife grabbed their passports and they frantically raced for the emergency exit staircase where they descended all 25 storeys.
When they reached the fourth floor, they saw blood on the staircase. "That’s when we knew that something was not right," he said.
Outside, emergency services were already on the scene. Chaos reigned as ambulances, police and the bomb squad scrambled to secure the building and treat the injured.
"I could see at least 15 people being taken away in ambulances. I don't know the condition, whether they were injured or whether they survived the blast. At that point I didn't even know what kind of a blast it was," Mr Saraf said.
While everyone was in shock, speculation about the cause of the blast ranged from a gas cylinder explosion to a terrorist attack.
"I could see that the windows and the ceilings of that floor had fallen apart. I don't know how many people are injured or dead, but it seemed like it was quite a devastating explosion."
Relatives of victims in Colombo on Sunday.Credit:AP
His worst fears were confirmed when he learned it was a chilling, premeditated attack, part of a series of coordinated bombings that killed more than 200 people across the country.
“It was very scary. We often see these things on TV or newspapers, but then to experience it [yourself] is quite a horrific experience.”
Mr Saraf, who spoke to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age by phone, said he was grateful the blast didn’t happen just moments later.
“We were getting ready to go to breakfast at that point. We were probably 30 seconds away from being at the same spot,” he said. “God has been kind.”
Police and forensic officials at the Shangri-la hotel in Colombo after Sunday’s attack.Credit:AP
Mr Saraf praised the hotel staff for helping the guests evacuate. He said they has been as "as much victims as all the guests were".
Mr Saraf described the attack as "a heinous crime".
"Words will fall short if I'm to describe all of that," he said.
"I can just say that whichever families are impacted by this, I hope most of them are safe as much as possible."
Mr Saraf, whose family escaped the country just hours later, said he was "one of the few lucky [ones] who managed to leave the country."
The 30-year-old financial advisor is now safely back home in Bangalore, India.
"It’s quite scary if you’re still stuck in Colombo. I could just imagine what those families are going through. I just hope it ends sooner rather than later."
'Everyone is glued to their screens'
Meanwhile, an Australian man caught up in the chaos has described the uncertainty and disruption caused by the curfew and social media blackout.
Deshan Sebaratnam, a 32-year-old doctor from Surry Hills in Sydney, is in Sri Lanka on a family holiday, but is stranded in a hotel in Kandy due to the nationwide curfew.
"The mood is pretty anxious," Dr Sebaratnam told the Herald and The Age.
"Sri Lankan people are used to bombings, but this is a new permutation – coordinated attacks at multiple locations.
"Around the hotel everyone is glued to their screens."
Dr Sebaratnam, who drove from Colombo to Kandy on Sunday, said he passed numerous ambulances and saw police stationed in front of churches.
Dr Sebaratnam said the social media ban was "frustrating" because it made it "hard to let people back home we're OK".
"I had to SMS a mate to post on Facebook for me saying that I’m OK because I couldn’t do it myself," he said.
He also said he'd heard two family acquaintances had died in one of the bombings.
Mr Sebaratnam said he was stranded inside his hotel due to the nationwide curfew, with the threat of arrest for non-compliance.
"If you want to drive anywhere you need permission from the police. Even then, it’s only for essential purposes."
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