Friday, October 19, 2007

Bombing in Manila

Because of the flight schedules heading home, we're here again today and get to enjoy almost the entire day off. We're supposed to head to the airport around 7pm for our 10pm flight to Los Angeles.

I woke up around 9 and had some end-of-tour work to get done. Dennis called around 12:30 and asked if I wanted to go to lunch with him at 1. He said the buffet at the restaurant downstairs was out of control. I had planned on going to the mall across the street for lunch, but he said I really shouldn't miss out on this buffet. I caved in to him, mostly because this would be the last time we could break bread together until March.

Well, he was right. I have never, ever in my life seen a spread like this one. There must have been 200 linear feet of some of the best food I've had in my life. Chinese, Thai, Indian, Filipino, I lost count. Hell, the desserts area alone was like a confectionary.

The bomb went off while Dennis and I were having dessert.

We didn't hear it, although it was only a few hundred feet away, across the street at the Glorietta 2 Mall where I had planned to have lunch. They say it went off right at 1:30.

Until we finished eating and took the elevators back up to the 28th floor, we still had no idea. Stepping off the elevator, we found our local security guards knocking on room doors and trying to account for all of our people's whereabouts. They told us what had happened across the street, and that we absolutely should not leave the building.

My room faced away to the other side, so we went into Dennis' room to try to see what was going on down there. We could see that the streets were closed off and there were a LOT of police vehicles and ambulances.

I went back to my room to pack up and sent out a few emails. As I sat at my computer, I heard many, many sirens approaching. It was an eerie and frightful sound.

JT called and said that because of the bombing that we were now scheduled to leave the hotel at 6. Manila is now under a Code Red Alert, and we may have issues getting from the hotel to the airport.

I went to JT's room, where she had live coverage going on her TV. There was debate that perhaps the explosion was caused by a gas leak or exploding gas cylinder in one of the mall's restaurants, but later they came on and said the C-4 (plastic explosive) residue had been found. The casualty number are changing every few minutes – 4 dead, 8 dead, 5 dead – as are the number of injured people being attended to, both at the site and at two nearby hospitals.

Some of our crew guys heard the explosion; some even felt the concussive effect from it upon their room windows. One guy took photos of the smoke plume and people fleeing the mall.

The band's percussionist, Tim, was eating lunch in another part of the mall and said it felt like an earthquake.

Last I heard, there were 6 dead and at least 84 injured.

Needless to say, I'm glad I had lunch with Dennis or I would have been somewhere inside the mall when the explosion occurred.

They're saying that the device exploded inside the Guess store, the very store that Janet and I had been shopping in about the same time on Tuesday.

Before we departed the hotel for the airport, in spite of the fact that our security didn't want anyone going over there (in case there was a secondary bomb), I snuck over to say goodbye to the girls at Outback. The restaurant was closed, as was everything else in the immediate area. I tried to get close enough to see the damage from the blast at ground level, but the police had the area zipped up tight.

We split for airport right on time at 6.

We've had police escort motorcycles with us to and from the venue each day, which has been great for getting through Manila's notoriously bad traffic. Tonight, we have even more. I saw 5 motorcycle cops, 2 SUV's with security guards, and then there were additional guards in the Party A (artist) van, the Party B (band and yours truly) 18p bus, and the Party C (crew) 18p bus. We had a pretty good-sized motorcade.

I got lucky and got upgraded to first class because business class was oversold.

Made it to my hotel room in LA, and I've since read online that it was a car bomb parked just outside one of the mall entrances. Death toll now at 9.

Here's the latest:

Military explosives used in deadly Manila bomb blast: police
Posted: 20 October 2007 1136 hr

MANILA: Military explosives were used in a huge bomb blast at a Manila shopping mall that left nine dead and 113 injured, Philippine police said Saturday.

Evidence collected from Friday's Glorietta mall blast indicates that the bomb "contained RDX, the main chemical component of C4," the police said in a report to Philippines President Gloria Arroyo.

In the Philippines C4 explosive is only used by the military.

The report was delivered at a top-level security meeting between the president and her security advisers at police headquarters in Manila.

Arroyo immediately ordered the country's police chief General Avelino Razon to check its source and pin-point the culprits.

"Is that already definitive... or is there going to be another more detailed finding of what kind of explosive was used?" Arroyo said during the briefing. "We need regular information bulletins on the status of the investigation."

Senior Superintendent Bert Ferro, who heads the police bomb data centre, said samples taken from the site leads him to "presume that those are of military ordnance components."

A chemist from the centre told Arroyo that it was possible that more samples were being collected from the site, but "at this point in time, that is what we have."

Razon said the government was putting up a two-million-peso (45,454-dollar) reward for any information leading to arrests.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blast, which came weeks after military intelligence foiled an alleged plot by Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Islamic militants to bomb the southern port city of Zamboanga.

National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said authorities were also looking at the Abu Sayyaf as possible suspects, noting that the group may have carried it out as part of their campaign to attract funding from international terrorist groups.

Reports said officials from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were helping Philippine police in the probe.

Throughout the night bomb experts sifted through blast debris trying to find clues as to what sort of bomb was used.

The mall remained sealed Saturday, with a cordon of policemen guarding its perimeter.

Razon said the bomb was apparently left at a delivery bay near a popular Chinese restaurant at the mall shortly after lunch.

He said investigators were also reviewing closed circuit television cameras and interviewing survivors and witnesses.

Security in all malls, bus and train stations, as well as sea and airports have been intensified, Razon said, with elite police commandos patrolling streets.

Alfie Reyes, a spokesman for the mall owners Ayala Land, said the firm would pay all medical expenses for the victims.

Officials and witnesses said the explosion left an eight-metre-wide (26 foot) crater on the ground floor and blew a hole through the roof on the second floor.

Abu Sayyaf Islamic militants were blamed for the bombing of a bus near the Glorietta mall that killed four people on Valentine's Day in February 2005.

Militants also firebombed a ferry in Manila Bay the previous year, killing more than 100 people in the country's worst terrorist attack.


Anonymous said...

Glad to read you're safe and well.

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts, and envy like crazy your travel adventures.


Anonymous said...

Ditto. Glad you and everyone are safe and sound.

Completely enjoy reading your blog too. Sounds like you eat and drink your way around the world. Awesome.

Keep up the good work.