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In Taba, freeze frames of horror

In the aftermath of the apparent car bombing that killed at least 30 people at a Hilton in Taba, Egypt, the ruined hotel looked like a freeze frame from a macabre movie.
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

In the space of a few horrific minutes Thursday night at the Taba Hilton, a woman fell eight stories in a bathtub.

The charred and twisted skeleton of a car flew from the front driveway into an empty banquet hall.

Every window in the hotel blew out.

In the aftermath of the apparent car bombing that killed at least 30 people, the ruined hotel looked like a freeze frame from a macabre movie.

At the front of the hotel, everything was in the wrong place. Guest rooms had plunged into the lobby. The facade had slid off like icing from a cake on a sweltering summer day. Blackened cars had been tossed into gardens and fountains. A massive shade tree that arched over the hotel driveway was fried by the fireball, scorched ebony and stripped of every leaf.

The entire first floor was a dark cavern of horrors. Ceiling tiles covered the floor. The walls had evaporated.

Everything is black and smells of acrid, burned metal. The wheelchairs kept for elderly or disabled guests are charred black. The luggage trolley is singed black.

Three receptionists died there. So did the secretary, the tourist policeman, the hotel security officer and the rental car man. Ordinarily, they were among the first to greet arriving guests and the last to bid them farewell.

One floor below, everything remained as a roomful of diners had left it. One table was still set for a group of 10, two of whom had just returned from the dessert bar with plates of cake and mugs of coffee. The lasagna was still in the warming pan, right next to the model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The chicken must have been particularly good. Most of the guests had picked the bones clean.

The floor was carpeted with glass and the belongings of guests who had left the dinner table in a panic: one pink sandal, a black evening bag, a tourist guidebook. And a film of black soot coated every plate of abandoned food and every blue tablecloth.

From an oasis of calm, to horror
A month ago, the same hotel provided me and my family with an escape from the daily fears of living in Israel, the persistent threat of suicide bombings.

It was an oasis of palm-lined sidewalks and bougainvillea-covered gardens. A short wade into the nearby Red Sea, the azure water teams with brilliant neon-colored fish. Swimmers could dive into the enormous saltwater pool and swim to an island bar. Beside the pool, thin Russian women in thong bikinis sunbathed next to Arab women swathed head-to-toe in scarves and robes.

On Thursday night, body parts floated in the pool, according to a hotel cook.

At the Kids Club, where my 4-year-old son was invited to make pizzas, the window panes had been shattered by the force of a blast that occurred one floor up and on the opposite side of the building. Children's colorful drawings were trying to fly off the walls. The club was closed at 9:45 p.m., when the explosion occurred. There was no sign of blood on the tiny, overturned blue and red plastic chairs.

The yellow-and-white-striped beach towels fluttering from many of the hotel's balconies looked much the same as they did a month ago. White curtains flapped in the sea breezes like ghosts trying to escape through glassless window panes.

On one third-floor balcony, just feet from the front rooms that slid off the hotel, a frantic guest had knotted sheets and blankets together and tossed two mattresses onto the ground to improvise a means of escape.

Every vacationing guest fled. Hundreds ran for the Israeli border, leaving behind luggage, passports and purses in their haste to escape the shattered and burning hotel. Israeli officials said that was probably why not all of the 150 people who remain unaccounted for are expected to be found in the rubble.

On Friday, hotel employees — many with bandages on their heads or arms — carried dozens of pieces of luggage and bags of possessions down steep flights of steps in preparation for returning them to their owners.

As dusk fell over the Red Sea Friday evening, rescue workers using picks and chainsaws dug through the rubble that was once the lobby. As night wore on, they found two bodies.

Asked to describe them, one rescue worker shook his head. "Smashed," he said.

A small brown rescue dog, brought to sniff out survivors in the rubble, sat at the end of his leash. He had nothing to do.