Kampala Eyewitnesses: 'She was rolling around in a pool of blood. It was just bad – so bad'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For most of the week, the Ethiopian Village restaurant plays music videos on large screens on its patio and serves steaming injera – traditional breads – and spicy sauces to its patrons. But like the dozens of bars on the Kampala same street, it had given itself up to the World Cup and was jammed with football fans when the bomb went off.

A group of Ugandans and their friends from a US church group went early to get good seats for the final. The match was entering its final minutes when the bomb went off. Three Ugandans were killed and three Americans were wounded, including 16-year-old Emily Kerstetter, according to colleagues.

"Emily was rolling around in a pool of blood, screaming," said witness Lori Ssebulime. "Five minutes before [the bomb] went off, Emily said she was going to cry so hard because she didn't want to leave. She wanted to stay the rest of the summer here. We were watching the game, and then all of a sudden it was just white things flying, and there were dead people everywhere. It was just bad, so bad."

It swiftly got worse. The Lugogo rugby ground is a popular spot for the young professionals of the Ugandan capital to drink, dress up and, last Sunday night, to watch the football on rows of white plastic chairs set up for the occasion. Excitement was in the air, the drink was flowing, the vuvuzelas were being blown vigorously, and those who had got to the club early were able to find seats in front of the big screen.

But on this night, those who arrived late were the luckier ones. The people in the front rows took the full force of the blast. Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba told The Independent that it was suspected that bombs had been planted underneath a chair.

"It was at that tense moment of the game, our eyes were fixed on the huge screen," said Tinka Semmakula. "Then all of a sudden, I heard a bang. It was a deafening sound, like nothing I have heard before. I turned to my nephew and he was on the ground, blood oozing from his mouth."

It was only when Mr Semmakula tried to pick up his 21-year-old nephew Steven that he realised he had injured his own arm. Steven was already dead. Also among the dead at the ground was Nate Henn, an American who worked to help child soldiers.

A much smaller blast had preceded the devastating explosion, but few failed to realise the danger and there were catcalls when the screen first went black. "We were shocked, but it looked like an electrical spark," said Ivan Muhame, 30. "None of us had experienced what happens with a bomb ... then a big one went off."

"We were watching soccer here and then, when there were three minutes to the end of the match, an explosion came ... and it was so loud," Juma Seiko said. The blast left shocked survivors reeling among corpses and shattered chairs. Broken bottles littered the floor.

Mr Muhame said there had been a disturbance earlier in the evening, when a group of men were ejected from the club. He said that there was speculation later that they could have been involved in the attack.

Heavily armed police cordoned off the site and searched with sniffer dogs, while dazed survivors helped pull the wounded from the wreckage. Outside the rugby ground, a large crowd gathered. Men in blood-covered shirts, looking shocked, trickled out of the grounds, while police pushed people back who wanted to go in to try to find their relatives or friends.

Ambulances ferried the wounded to hospital, where doctors rushed to tend to the wounded. Some of the injured lay on the floor because of a lack of space. "We were just sitting there watching the World Cup ... a bomb or something went off – or some type of explosion, and everything just fell to the ground," a young foreign missionary working in Uganda said from his hospital bed, his right eye swollen shut.

Others remained at home, waiting for telephone calls from friends and relatives. Herbert Kasaija was last night heading to a vigil for a friend who had died at the rugby club, though her body was yet to be released from the mortuary. Another friend was missing.

Comments