Most of those injured in the suicide bombing of Haifa's Maxim restaurant were evacuated to Rambam Hospital, a four-minute drive away, where the emergency room was soon filled with a cacophony of Hebrew and Arabic.
Worried relatives and friends from Haifa and the neighboring villages came to the hospital's information desk looking for information about loved ones. Racked by suspense, people began pushing and shouting. Occasionally shouts of joy were heard, when a relative was found, or cries of anguish, when the news turned out to be bad.
Roni, one of Maxim's owners, said the restaurant was crowded - as on every Saturday - when the bomb exploded. "I was behind the till. I didn't see the suicide bomber come in." A few seconds after he arrived, policemen swooped on him - but they were only regular patrons who were shocked to hear of an explosion in their favorite haunt.
After making sure he was only lightly injured, they sighed with relief. One of them said Roni was supposed to have joined his wife in Taba, but chose to stay in the restaurant.
Other patrons, who had not been in the restaurant at the time of the explosion, drove to the hospital to inquire about Roni and the rest of the staff, some of them Arabs. "It's hard to believe that this restaurant, of all others, should be bombed. We were sure that nothing like that could happen in Maxim," a stunned visitor said.
Meanwhile, dozens of relatives of injured people and victims continued to crowd outside the information center. Afif, the brother of the security guard posted at the entrance to Maxim, arrived at Rambam after looking for his brother in vain in Haifa's other hospitals. He said his mother had collapsed and could not stand the uncertainty any longer.
By now everyone around him knew already that his brother had been killed by the explosion, but no one dared tell him clearly. Afif had to go on questioning the doctors and policemen who finally sent hm to the Forensic Medicine Institute in Abu Kabir.
The members of the Almog family fluctuated between despair and hope. Zeev and his wife Ruth were lunching at the restaurant with their two children and four grandchildren. All afternoon relatives searched for 11-year old Asaf Steier, Zeev's grandson and Galit's son, and his cousin Tomer, but they were not to be found in any of the hospitals.
Zeev and Ruth could not be traced, either. Later the relatives learned that Galit had been taken into surgery and that Oren, one of the three children whose condition was critical, was also being operated on. "They never go to restaurants, but this Saturday they decided to go to Maxim's," said Iris, a relative.
Uri Ash adds: When the Feiglin family arrived at Maxim, the grandson, Yuval, 21, suggested to his grandmother, father and sister to sit in the center of the restaurant. "No, let's sit next to the window," his grandmother Ruth Ginton said. Her choice saved the lives of her son and his children. The family were behind a concrete pillar that protected them from the blast's direct impact.
"There was a terrible blast - the panes shattered and glass fell on us. A cloud of dust covered us. We hugged, Haim and Yuval pushed my head down, and we waited for the second explosion. When it quietened down we tried to get out. We saw a horrible spectacle, Dante's inferno. People started screaming and running around," she said.
"Many people were on the floor," Yuval said. "We held each other's hands and went out. We washed our faces at a car wash and drove the car to Carmel hospital." He was lightly hurt by a sliver of glass in his hand. His father and grandmother were lightly scratched.
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