Terry Kemp said he was getting into his car for the short ride to the American embassy in Mali's capital Bamako on Friday when shots rang out.
Attackers ran toward the entrance to the Radisson Blu Hotel firing at the guards, as Kemp and a colleague turned and ran back into the hotel, a popular spot for Westerners and the United Nations.
Kemp, a State Department contractor, was in Mali on assignment, staying at the Radisson for the past five weeks. Today he recalled to ABC News how he survived when gunmen stormed the hotel and took people hostage, in an attack that left at least 19 dead.
Running up a flight of stairs, the attackers fired after Kemp and threw a grenade as he flew into a dining room and dove under a table, he said.
"They were right behind me," Kemp said.
Kemp said he watched the black boots of three attackers walk around. He said they spoke in a "low whisper" before they started shooting.
"I just knew I was dead," Kemp said. "They never looked [under the table], they were shooting, the shells were hitting me. They never looked. I don't know why."
The assailants set the room on fire and left to continue their rampage, he said. Kemp called embassy security and waited as smoke filled the room.
He said he waited until the smoke reached the floor and then made a run for it, as the embassy Regional Security Officers ran in to rescue him.
"I was blessed. I was in good hands," Kemp said. "I didn't worry no more."
Kemp was one of about 20 Americans rescued from the hotel, including a dozen working with the embassy and eight or nine not related to the State Department, Ambassador Paul Folmsbee told ABC News. An American aid worker working with USAID, Anita Datar, was killed.
While Malian and United Nations forces spearheaded the rescue operation, Folmsbee said that American Regional Security Officers were joined by "five or six American forces that were in town and working with Mali forces on training and other things." The ambassador also denied reports that the attackers had arrived in a car with U.S. diplomatic plates.
Kemp, who plans to return home to Florida on Sunday, added, "My thoughts are to the families of the people that didn’t make it.”