Alarming rumours of violence quickly circulated among foreign visitors in Mumbai during a series of deadly attacks Wednesday, said a former Ottawa resident on a business trip in the western Indian city.
"There was rumours about people shooting randomly in the street, at the train station, at hospitals and cafés and hotels, there was explosions and grenade launches and more," said Bundeep Singh Thursday, while fleeing India's financial capital in wake of the attacks.
"A substantial part of that actually turned out to be true, which is horrific about what's actually taking place here."
Teams of gunmen stormed five-star hotels, a restaurant and a crowded train station in the western Indian city.
Canadians were reportedly among the hostages still being held Thursday by the attackers.
Singh, who spoke to CBC's Ottawa Morning from the Mumbai airport, was dining at a beachside restaurant with six business representatives from Britain when he heard initial reports of an explosion.
Singh hurried back to his hotel, where he was told not to stand in the lobby because hotels were under attack.
"Very soon after we got there they barricaded the hotel," he said. "They didn't let anybody in except hotel guests.… The steel gates were shut, and there were basically armed guards outside."
Usually stays at Taj hotel
Singh said it was by chance that he ended up at the Hyatt, instead of the Taj Mahal Hotel that was one of the hotels attacked Wednesday.
Some months, he spends more time at the Taj than in his apartment in London, he said, but this time he just happened to have meetings scheduled for the part of the city nearest the Hyatt.
"It was complete luck."
Singh managed to get a seat on a plane out of Mumbai on Thursday. He said the streets and the airport were unusually empty of ordinary people but a lot more crowded with police and security forces and armed guards, and it was hard to get a seat on a flight.
Man's niece hurt as crowd panics
In Ottawa, people with family in Mumbai were scrambling Wednesday to find out whether their relatives were OK.
Nitya Varma spent much of Wednesday night on the phone.
"I was concerned that they could be dead because one of my nephews, he runs a business there and he also goes to those hotels for meetings and things like that," he recalled.
He added that his niece was at the train station when it was attacked, causing the people there to panic and run.
"She was running away also. She got hurt also because in the mob she fell and people ran over her and all that."
Anish Mehra, who manages an Indian restaurant in downtown Ottawa, said his brother and parents are visiting India and had left Mumbai about 10 hours before the attacks took place. The family had lunch at the Oberoi Hotel, the site of one of Wednesday's attacks, just a few days earlier.
"I was there a little while back. Dad always takes us there," Mehra said, adding that he has many aunts, uncles and grandparents in Mumbai.
Prakash Yadav, who works with Mehra, has a brother in Mumbai, and couldn't get through to him Wednesday. Finally, he managed to find out through someone else that his brother is unhurt.
Mumbai, a sprawling city of 13 million inhabitants, has been repeatedly targeted by attacks blamed on Muslim militants and underworld figures since 1993.
The most recent attacks prior to Wednesday occurred in July 2006, when a series of co-ordinated bomb blasts on commuter trains during the city's morning rush hour killed nearly 190 people and injured more than 700.