British Columbia

B.C. tourist in Mumbai watches violence unfold from hotel rooftop

A Vancouver tourist in Mumbai said the normally bustling streets in the Indian financial capital were silent on Thursday morning except for the occasional burst of gunfire following a string of co-ordinated attacks that killed more than 100 people and wounded almost 300 others.

Mumbai attacks terrify South Asian community in Vancouver

Vancouver photographer Daniel Gautreau, who is on holiday in Mumbai, watched violence unfold Wednesday. ((Submitted by Daniel Gautreau))

A Vancouver tourist in Mumbai said the normally bustling streets in the Indian financial capital were silent on Thursday morning except for the occasional burst of gunfire following a string of co-ordinated attacks that killed more than 100 people and wounded almost 300 others.

Daniel Gautreau said he watched the violence unfold from the rooftop of his hotel, which is next to the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, one of the two luxury hotels targeted by gunmen in Wednesday's late-night attacks.

"I am on the rooftop of my hotel where I can see the Taj still burning. There's still smoke," Gautreau told CBC News on the telephone from his hotel.

Gautreau said he did not know about the attacks, which began around 10 p.m. Wednesday, until his phone rang in the middle of the night and he saw the news on television.

Shortly after, four people who said they were local police banged on Gautreau's hotel room door.

"Four guys come in with four guns pulled out — a shotgun and three handguns — and they start going through my room, looking at everything and asking for identification," he said.

Some members of the South Asian community gathered at the Punjabi Market in Vancouver to watch news footage of what was unfolding in Mumbai on Wednesday. ((CBC))

Several hundred hostages were still being held by gunmen early Thursday at both of the hotels as well as at the offices of an ultra-orthodox Jewish group .

Gautreau said that as a photographer, he's no stranger to violence, having worked in Nicaragua and El Salvador during those countries' revolutions, but admitted he's on edge.

"My gut feeling is that I'm just going to hang tight for a little while until it kind of calms down," he said.

"I am kind of tempted to go back out there. Your adrenalin starts going, right? But then I'm wondering, man, I don't think it is worth it. There is enough local media that can cover it; they don't need my two cents."

Wednesday's attacks shocked Vancouver's South Asian community, whose members said they are horrified at the carnage, enraged at the killings and worried about relatives living in Mumbai.

After seeing television coverage of the violence, people at the Punjabi Market in Vancouver said Wednesday they are worried about family and friends.

"We're all shocked," Lucky Sihota, editor of a local Punjabi newspaper, told CBC News. "From the morning [local time], we are hearing the stuff. It's very, very [shocking] because nobody needs to hear about violence and so [many] people getting killed."

Raji Khaira said she was grateful when she learned her mother was safe.

"My mum was just in Bombay [the former name of Mumbai] a couple of days ago, and I'm just relieved that she's safe and sound," Khaira said.

Niece of Surrey man among victims

Mumbai-born Nick Noorani said he is extremely worried about relatives and friends because the targeted areas are "crucial spots" in the city.

"Pretty much every Bombayite is going through that area so it could be anyone. It could be an uncle who's there at dinner. It could just about be anyone," said Noorani, who publishes Canadian Immigrant Magazine in Vancouver.

Mumbai, a sprawling city of around 18 million inhabitants, has been hit by smaller attacks and bombings over the past 15 years, fuelled by Muslim-Hindu rifts and tension between India and neighbouring Pakistan.

Mumbai-born Nick Noorani, who now lives in Vancouver, said the city where he was born has never seen attacks of the magnitude witnessed Wednesday. ((CBC))

But Noorani said the city hasn't seen anything of this magnitude — although more than 250 people were killed in a similar series of bombings in 1993 that targeted hotels, bazaars, the stock exchange and the Air India building.

"This looks like India's 9/11," Noorani said. "You know, where it's not something at all within your control. It's madness. It's pre-planned … It's so big that the police can't handle this."

Nirbhye Singh Bhui of Surrey said his niece, Jasmine Bhurji, 21, was among the first victims to be gunned down.

Bhui struggled to speak Wednesday night as he talked of his niece, a Mumbai resident who was a manager at the five-star Trident Oberoi hotel. The hotel was one of several targets attacked by the gunmen.

Canadians looking for information on relatives in Mumbai can contact the Department of Foreign Affairs at 1-800-387-3124 from inside Canada or call 613-996-8885 collect from other countries.

"Jasmine was a very vibrant girl, very vibrant, and she was very, very cheerful," Bhui said. "She would light up any occasion, I would say."

Bhui says he called family in India after his wife learned that the hotel where his niece worked had been attacked.

Some businesses in Vancouver's South Asian community are planning to set up a relief fund for victims and families of victims of Wednesday's attacks.

"Whether it's a Punjabi or Sikh, whenever there is a natural disaster or any terror attack, we help a lot," Sihota said.

"In this case, I am pretty sure the South Asian community in Vancouver, the Punjabi community in Vancouver, will do something for them."

With files from the Canadian Press