Two of the attacks were the work of suicide bombers. The first explosion came shortly after 1 a.m. local time in the old market, an open square surrounded by shops that are often filled with both tourists and locals on weekends. The second attacker struck nearby, driving a car into the lobby of the Ghazala Garden Hotel. The roof collapsed, and police Saturday looked amid the rubble for survivors and the dead. Soon after the first two attacks, a bomb left inside a bag in a parking lot went off, killing six tourists. It's unclear who carried out the assult, though an extremist Islamic group has claimed responsibility. "Whoever did this," said Karam Mahmoud Mohammed Hamid as he cleaned up broken glass at his pharmacy in the market, "has no religion."
Mark Chilton, a diving instructor from Birmingham, England, was at a tavern near the parking lot area with friends when he heard an explosion nearby. When the manager of the bar went to find out what happened, Chilton tried to keep customers calm. He was calling his wife to tell her he was safe when suddenly there was a second, even closer bang, and Chilton rushed into the street, greeted by a gruesome scene of broken glass, corpses and body parts strewn in the parking lot.
"I saw about eight dead bodies lying on the ground, and seven or eight other people badly wounded," Chilton said. "One guy had no torso, just legs and chest held together by nothing but skin. There was another girl with her leg gone, and a guy with two legs gone, trying to get up. He didn't realize he had no legs." There was relatively little blood; the explosion was so hot it cauterized most of the wounds.
A former British soldier, Chilton is trained in CPR and first aid for his job as a dive instructor, but there was little he could do for the victims. He and several of his friends tried to set up a triage, with the most likely to live treated first, but chaos and panic, as well as the severity of the wounds, threatened to overwhelm their efforts. It took a half hour for the first ambulance to arrive; in the meantime, Chilton other bystanders managed to flag down a few taxis to take wounded to the hospital.
The explosions were powerful enough to register miles away. Diving instructor Craig Anderson was at a Bedouin village in the mountains four miles outside of town when he felt a strong jolt. "It gave me goosebumps," he said. Returning to Sharm El Sheikh, his day became even stranger when he was waved over by security officials. They asked if he would like his picture taken with Hosni Mubarak, who had come to town that morning to inspect the damage. "It was bizarre," Anderson said, showing off a mobile phone photo of himself with the Egyptian President. "Like a comedy, but terrible."
Mubarak was there in part to reassure tourists, who many worry will now avoid the area. Some tourists could be seen dragging their luggage and belongings in the streets which had been closed by police, desperate to leave as soon as possible. Khaled Barakat, the Egyptian manager of a water sports shop, stood dazed and staring past a police cordon at the remains of the marketplace strewn with glass, burned rubber and car parts. "It's shock," he said. "I've been living here 15 years and I can't believe it." He said he worries the pristine resort town on the tip of the Sinai peninsula will never be the same. "Everyone always says Sharm is the safest place in Egypt. What will they say now?"
For his part, Chilton swears he will not leave Sharm El Sheikh. "I mean, I could be in London, for God's sake."