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Chicagoan escapes Mumbai turmoil [3 December, 2008]

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Doug O’Keeffe, a Chicago resident and volunteer at the Northside Grocery Center (a food-pantry branch of HIV/AIDS agency Vital Bridges), was caught in the recent attack on the Taj Oberoi hotel in Mumbai, India, but was able to escape.

O’Keeffe was in the city as part of a routine layover for his airline job on November 26.  Crew members were scheduled to leave that night.  They heard the first explosion in the building while waiting for the elevators.

The group made its way into a conference room.  After a while, one of the hotel employees discovered them, told them to turn off all their lights and stay quiet.  He left and with a group of commandos carrying assault rifles, which escorted the group through the destruction in the lobby, to outside the building.  The people were then told to run to a parking garage on the opposite side of the street.  O’Keeffe and the others stayed there until 7 a.m the next morning when the hotel manager drove them to an airport hotel in a bus.

O’Keeffe, who has visited Mumbai several times in the past, told Windy City Timesthat the experience was “beyond reality” and that, at the time, he couldn’t “believe it was happening.” The experience has not changed his feelings about Mumbai, “I’ve always found it a fascinating and interesting place and have no bad feelings about [it].  I feel very sorry for all the people who were victims.”

Some news analyses are comparing the Mumbai attacks to 9/11 in the United States.  O’Keeffe himself lost a co-worker in that event: “I find it so astronomically ironic that he should die in a terrorist attack and I should survive one.” O’Keeffe was reluctant to make any comparisons, saying that the events occurred in “two completely different societies,” and that he didn’t want to assume to know “how the Indian people feel about [the attacks].”

Originally published in Windy City Times, 3 December, 2008

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