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Bomb witness: 'There was chaos in the building'

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.N. lawyer David Marshall was in a meeting at U.N. headquarters in Baghdad's Canal Hotel on Tuesday when a truck bomb exploded outside, killing at least 17 people and wounding 100 others.

Marshall spoke to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer before it was confirmed that chief U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello had died of wounds suffered in the blast.

BLITZER: First of all, are you OK?

MARSHALL: Yes, I am. Yes, I'm fine.

BLITZER: Tell us where you were and what you saw.

MARSHALL: I was in a meeting on the second floor of the Canal Hotel, and there was an extraordinary explosion which blew me and those in the meeting off our seats against the wall. The roof collapsed, lights went out, and dust was everywhere. There was chaos in the building.

We ran down two flights of stairs, and it was difficult getting out of the front of the building. The front of the building was covered in rubble. There were a number of bodies in the rubble. Those bodies were carried out. And then we went to the back of the building, where the roof had caved in, where we believe Sergio is at this moment.

BLITZER: We're talking about the chief U.N. representative in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Is the sense that he's trapped inside but people are in communication with him?

MARSHALL: I went to the back of the building, and one person I was with made communication with him and said that he was fine. We were then asked to leave the scene. The scene where we were standing was in fact the crime scene.

There was a huge crater next to where I believe a meeting had been taking place with Sergio. We were asked to leave that scene. They wished to collect evidence, so I went to the front of the building. But that's where he's believed to be. This was about an hour ago, an hour and a half ago.

BLITZER: The reports that we're getting are that a truck may have driven into the front lobby of the Canal Hotel, at which point it exploded. Presumably a suicide truck driver exploding himself in the process. Is that what you're hearing on the scene?

MARSHALL: That's not what I saw. The thrust of the blast appeared to come from the back of the building, not the lobby of the building, although there was substantial damage to the lobby. And that's where there were serious injuries.

It appeared that the blast came from the back, and I say that because the crater I saw, this huge crater, was at the back of the building. There was no crater in the front of the building.

BLITZER: What specifically is your job there? How long have you been there and what are your plans right now?

MARSHALL: Well, my plans were to leave tomorrow. I was here on an assessment mission with the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva to assess the legal system. ... We were meeting a number of human rights lawyers, judges and prosecutors and defenders, canvassing their views to see how the justice system could be improved. And the idea was to leave tomorrow and issue a report.

BLITZER: Will you be leaving tomorrow?

MARSHALL: I doubt it. I doubt it.

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