ISLAMABAD, September 21 – Masked rescuers carrying stretchers on Sunday tried to enter the smouldering ruins of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel to search for bodies and possible survivors from a huge suicide bomb attack.,
Military firefighters in blue helmets and khaki outfits could be seen gingerly entering the 300-room hotel, but they were later forced to retreat because the structure was deemed too unstable.
Other teams in orange chemical protection suits managed to probe deeper into the building, where it was feared many guests were trapped by a huge inferno triggered by Saturday night’s bombing.
Firefighters worked through the night to try to dampen the blaze which totally destroyed the six-story building, but so far they have only been able to enter parts of the lobby and restaurants on the ground floor.
Hundreds of armed police and soldiers ringed the scene, while army bulldozers cleared rubble from nearby streets.
At least 60 people were killed and 200 injured when a suicide bomber detonated a truck packed with explosives at a security barrier outside the main entrance of the hotel just as it was full of guests breaking the Ramadan fast.
Many of the known casualties so far were security guards and other people standing outside the hotel entrance or in the lobby. Others were people seen jumping from the upper floors of the hotel.
The bomb ignited gas cylinders in the hotel’s kitchen which triggered an intense fire that swept through the building, and it is feared the death toll could rise significantly.
The charred structure was still smoking on Sunday morning, and part of the second floor appeared to have collapsed above the reception area.
The streets around the hotel in the centre of the city were littered with burned out vehicles, crumpled furniture and other debris, while huge trees were snapped in half.
A huge crater — measuring 20 metres wide by eight metres deep — marked the spot where the truck exploded.
The Czech ambassador was among those killed in the blast.