The Hotel Christopher where UN officials were based before last week’s earthquake holds an particularly terrifying memory for me.
I was nearly killed there in 1993 or 1994. Although I worked for Reuters, I was pretty collegiate and so when I heard a rumour there was something going on at the hotel I jumped in a car with AP photographer Mike Stravato.
We chatted away as we drove up the winding road that led to the old hotel. But when we turned into the parking lot we came face to face with a group about a dozen men in police and army uniforms with their machine guns cocked and ready to fire. We had driven into an ambush!
Stravato immediately went to pick up his camera and take a photo through the windscreen but I slapped his hand down and screamed at him to back up. I remember screaming very loudly, I don’t think I had ever been so petrified in all my life.
The soldiers seemed as surprised as we were and were thankfully a lot calmer. We managed to back out and drive a few hundred yards down the road. No shots had been fired and so being young and stupid we decided to walk back up the hill to try and find out what was going on.
Within seconds of shutting the car door, all hell broke loose. Whoever was being ambushed had obviously arrived and they were being gunned down. Hundreds of shots were fired.
Stravato and I hit the ground. I remember rolling under the car and praying. I have no idea how long we stayed there for but when things died down we got in the car and hightailed it out of there.
We never did find out what exactly had happened. We were just happy that it wasn’t us.