IT WAS Saturday night in the centre of Kuta, the maze of clubs, restaurants, shops, hotels and beach bungalows which make up Bali’s biggest tourist area. On the dance floors and in the bars, the young tourists and surfers who are drawn to the area were gathering to have fun.
The narrow streets were filled with loud music, scooter horns and shouting. Everywhere was open and the crowds thronging the lanes were swelled by hundreds of professional and amateur rugby and football players, over from Australia on end-of- season tours.
In the Sari Club, off Legian road, tourists from Australia, Britain, New Zealand, France, Sweden, the United States and many other western countries were settling in for a night of drinking and dancing. The club, known locally as SC, was always popular with foreign visitors, partly because of its policy of keeping out the local youths. Large gates and armed policemen on the door made sure that no undesirables found their way inside, although free-spending tourists were always welcome.
Famous for its pitchers of Bintang beer, an Indonesian brew, the Sari was especially popular with Australians, who gathered to watch Australian Rules football on the big screen above the bar.
What everyone was looking forward to was a good night out. What they got was a massacre. At 11:30pm, those inside the Sari Club heard a small explosion outside. Most ignored it, and carried on dancing. Moments later, a massive car bomb ripped the club apart.
"We heard a bang but we kept on dancing because we didn't know what a bomb was like," one British girl explained later. "Then there was a massive boom. It all went dark and everything fell in on us. The next thing I remember, I was lying on the floor and there were flames everywhere."
Body parts were strewn over the rooftops as the flames took hold. "There were bodies all over the floor of the bar. So many bodies were just black mounds, some were red," said Richard Hechnier, a tourist from Perth, Australia.
The bomb had been hidden inside a Kijang, a jeep-like vehicle, parked in the narrow lane outside the club. In the confined space, the force of the blast was concentrated on the club, igniting gas cylinder stores outside and starting an inferno which brought down the flimsy roof which covered part of the bar. Those beneath it at the time were trapped.
Amos Libby, 25, from the United States, was walking past the bar when the bomb went off: "It lifted me off my feet. All the buildings in the vicinity just collapsed, cars overturned and debris from the buildings fell on them," he said.
"People I met two to three days ago are never going to go home. I have never seen anything so horrible. There were so many people, 18 to 20 year olds, people in pieces all over the street."
In the nearby Bounty Hotel, the blast blew in the window of Rachael Hughes’ room. The 18-year-old Australian looked out onto a scene of carnage. "People were yelling and screaming ‘they are all going to die’," she said. "Standing in the foyer of the Bounty Hotel, people were just walking in, blood dripping off them, burns to their face, skin coming off them."
Nyoman Trisna, a hotel receptionist, heard a deafening explosion: "My reception counter started shaking. The building was shaking. I ran for my life outside with the guests into the car park. When I looked up at the sky, it was deep red. There was a huge fireball and a lot of smoke. There was glass shattering everywhere."
Inside the club, a British girl - who has not been identified - grabbed a live electrical cable to drag herself out of the rubble. "It was either risk that or be burnt to death. I grabbed the electric cable and pulled myself free," she said.
But as she looked around, she realised her British boyfriend was missing: "I couldn’t see him. And I don’t see him now. I don’t think he survived."
In Paddy’s Bar, just along the street from the Sari Club, British tourist Matt Noyce was talking to a couple of people he’d just met when the bomb went off.
"Basically, there was just a massive explosion. You didn't really realise it was an explosion to start with," he said. "You just saw a blinding light and your ears felt like they were exploding."
Inside Paddy’s Bar, there was panic. People ran for the door, scrambling over each other to get out. Noyce found himself out in the street: "It was awful, like something you'd see out of Vietnam. There were bodies everywhere.
"It was pretty dark but you could tell some people were really badly injured. Lots of blood everywhere, people with burns. Some people with limbs that just, well, just terrible, terrible injuries."
A British tourist, Rob Hawkins, was standing just ten metres away from the vehicle when it exploded. He was saved by a concrete pillar which deflected the blast. "There was glass flying about. It was pitch dark. When I ran out of the bar it was terrible," he said.
Inside the Sari Club, an Australian tourist, David Hodder, was enjoying a few drinks with friends from the Forbes Rugby Club on an end-of-season tour, when the blast knocked them to the ground.
"When I came to, the roof was down, with flames flying out of it, and people running over me," he said. Three of his friends were missing but he and the others managed to scale a three-metre high wall to get away from the flames and then tried to help others trapped inside.
"We just tried to get as many people out as we could before it was too late," he said. "They didn’t all make it."
Bruce Baker, a tourist from Australia’s Gold Coast, recalled: "Some poor bugger was laying right on the corner and one of his legs was gone. He was quite coherent, he was just saying, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ I said to him, ‘You’ll be right, mate, someone will come’."
Within a matter of seconds, the Sari Club had been reduced to a heap of smouldering ruins. The blast had wrecked nearby discos, restaurants and a hotel and gouged a four-metre-wide crater out of the road.
Cars and motorbikes which had been parked outside the club were transformed into a wall of flame, blocking the path to safety.
In a restaurant nearby, Karim Ansel, 27, from Paris, had heard two explosions and ran into the street to see people staggering towards him out of the ruins of the club.
"I was sitting at a table about 100 metres away when there was a mild explosion followed three or four seconds later by a very powerful one. I hurled myself to the ground.
"Everybody was shouting and screaming.
"As I came out I saw awful, awful things. One person was absolutely covered in blood, another woman was running with her clothes burned on to her body. Other people were just completely traumatised."
As the sun rose yesterday morning, the fires were still burning. Rescue workers continued to pull blackened body after blackened body from what remained of the Sari Club, while the daylight revealed the full extent of the carnage. Blood was smeared across walls, a leg rested on a roof and a burnt hand lay on the pavement. Windows 500 metres from the blast had been blown out.
Many of those who escaped the blast began to stream towards the airport.
Karim Ansel was among them. "I am going to the airport," he said. "I want to take the first flight out, I can't stay here any more."