(CNN)It had been hours since the terrorists burst into the hotel complex in Kenya, and you could feel the desperation in the air.
Armed with guns and explosives, they were roaming the halls of the Dusit hotel complex, shooting at anything that moved.As day turned into night, not much was known about the attack in Nairobi — word was trickling out in bits and pieces. Those trapped inside sent out pleas on social media, asking people to get them help. Philip Ogola, a Red Cross volunteer who describes himself as a “digital humanitarian,” saw the desperate messages and created a group chat for those trapped in the buildings. With phones their only connection to the outside world, those shared chats on popular messaging app WhatsApp became a lifeline for the victims during the standoff that started at 4 p.m. on January 15 and lasted nearly 16 hours. A woman hides behind a car during last week’s terror attack at a hotel complex in Nairobi. Read MoreFirst few hours: Fear and uncertainty The gunshots and explosions popped relentlessly. Some of the people trapped turned off their lights and crawled under tables. Others crouched inside kitchen cabinets. They sent out pleas on the group chat, asking whether help was coming. How long would it take Recce, an elite Kenyan special forces team, to get to them, they wondered. Philip Ogola Stay low. Stay calm. Keep your phones on silent. Recce (special forces) team combing floor by floor Victim We are still hearing gunshots Victim There was a large explosion … anything we need to know? Philip Ogola Alert ? DON’T panic Recce is advancing Stay low Stay calm Keep your phones on silent Rescue team combing floor by floor Victim Thanks for the update. Much appreciated Victim We all have them on silence, lights off and hidden under the desks Next few hours: Gunshots, then silence The hours dragged on. Some started to worry that rescuers had forgotten them. Others wondered why the gunfire was incessant. When it finally stopped, they questioned why it was suddenly quiet, whether the special forces sent to rescue them had retreated.”I can hear my eyelids blink,” one message said. Victim We are still hearing gunshots Victim Why are they shooting? Are they getting us out today? Rescuer Security forces are clearing building by building … they have to move systematically so be patient. Stay down. Barricade yourself. Put your phone on silent, switch off the lights Victim Thanks we are holding tight Victim I can hear my eyelids blink (It’s so quiet) Victim Any progress? Rescuer Recce is combing floor by floorThey have your locationsKindly be patient. Help is on the way Night turns to day: A glimmer of hopeThe clock ticked past midnight, and Tuesday turned into Wednesday. The usually bustling suburb of Westlands became a ghost town. But outside the complex, Ogola sat with other rescuers and some of the victims’ relatives, sharing information. They got an update from authorities on what part of the complex the police and special forces were in. They asked those in the group to name their locations so police can get to them. Rescuer This is for newcomers. Kindly share the building, the floor and number of people you’re with, any injuries. Are you in a position to share numbers of your colleagues? Philip Ogola 14 Riverside Arlington Block How many people? Need to share with police Victim We are about 25-30 people Victim Hannover Building … there are many people in there very afraid hoping for someone to come for them Victim Grosvenor House 4th floor, about 20 people. There are still people hiding in boardrooms and offices. Victim We are at Grosvenor building … around 90 guys Philip Ogola That’s the building being combed now floor by floor Victim 1st floor toilets … 7 in the toilet … traumatized. Almost over: The focus is on the injured The messages in the group alternated between reassuring the victims and providing medical help to those suffering from gunshot wounds. The group members included a doctor and a Red Cross official who shared tips and images on how to stop bleeding. Issa Premji, a Red Cross official in the group, said that helped save lives. Philip Ogola I have added some people from Red Cross Rescuer And there’s a doctor … he’s here to guide you on first aid for the injured Doctor Hi good people. All will be well. Any one out there with an injury? You can apply dressing with whatever you come across. Injuries on the extremities, apply firm dressing. Use your belt tied tight above the injury More tips on bleeding management. Use any fabric to arrest the bleeding Doctor These are some tips on injuries … and please let this not scare you. All is well. Please do not panic. If you have some water, some sweets share Philip Ogola Any other (wounded person)? The siege ends: Not everyone makes it out When Kenyan authorities declared the siege over on January 16 — nearly 16 hours later — Ogola and other rescuers asked those in the group to check in. Some sent quick one-liners saying they’d been rescued. Others did not say a word — their batteries had long died. But others had stopped responding because they were among the 21 people killed in the attack. Rescuer Grosvenor (building) release ongoing … 50 out. Keep us posted when safe. Philip Ogola Head count Victim I was rescued at around 6:30 Victim I was able to get out Victim Thank you for all the help Victim Thank you for the constant support and getting us out Victim God bless you all Victim Was able to get out … Rescuer Please check with Philip on counseling at your convenience. I’m so very sorry for the ordeal that you all went through ?? The aftermath: Hope amid chaosWhile the number of people rescued from the group is unclear, Ogola said they helped coordinate 124 people during the standoff. Philip Ogola helped create a group chat during the Kenya terror attack last week.CNN obtained the WhatsApp group chats, but did not publish them all or identify the people involved because some of them were killed. The people who sent messages in the group chats are referred to as victims to avoid giving away their identities.Ogola said he created the group with Kenyan journalist Boniface Nyaga after people reached out to them with numbers of relatives trapped in the complex. Those under siege provided details and phone numbers of others trapped with them, and the group grew from there. Ogola also combed through social media and saw posts from others who were hiding in the complex and asking for help. “We quickly had to step in to keep them safe,” he said. “We started off by telling them, ‘please, do not disclose your location on social media. For your safety. Be very discreet. The terrorists are also tech savvy, they could be on social media.'”Wanjiku Mugo was crouched under a table in an office with about 30 other people between 4 p.m. and 4 a.m. She said the group kept them calm and reassured them that help was coming. Before the group was formed, she said, they’d lost hope and had nowhere to turn for information. But in the dark room, every time her phone screen lit up with a new message, she felt a little more hopeful.You can email Faith Karimi at [email protected]