How CDC Employee Survived Terrifying Attack at Mali Hotel

PHOTO: An ambulance seen outside the Radisson Blu hotel, after an attack by gunmen on the hotel, in Bamako, Mali, Nov. 20, 2015. PlayHarouna Traore/AP Photo
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As assailants sprayed bullets from automatic weapons outside the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, American Kathie Fazekas watched people fleeing for their lives from the window over her hotel room.

Fazekas, who works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had just picked up her room key and bag and was heading to the door to go to work Friday at the U.S. embassy in Bamako.

"I had my hand on the door to go out, I heard a spray of definitely gunfire," Fazekas told ABC News today. "I knew immediately."

Fazekas barricaded the door and called for help, asking a friend to notify the diplomatic Regional Security Officers.

Once in touch, they agreed on a series of knocks that would serve as a code so that if they were able to reach her, she would know it was safe to come out.

"At one point I hear gunshots in the hallway and there were people checking doors and knocking lightly," Fazekas said. "And I knew that the cavalry wouldn't come in on a light knock.

"I just knew that I wasn't touching that door until I got that code," she said.

It took eight and a half hours for Malian special forces, with help from the United Nations, French and Americans, to take back the hotel. By the end, 19 people had been killed, including American aid worker Anita Datar who was in Mali working on a USAID project.

Asked if she ever thought she would be killed, Fazekas insisted she was optimistic throughout and knew "in my heart of hearts I'm going home."

But just in case, she sent an email on her BlackBerry to her husband in Atlanta.

"When the gunfire was going down the hallway, I emailed my husband a second time and I said, 'I love you,'" Fazekas said. "'If this doesn't turn out right, I love you and let people know.'"