Some were trapped by terrorists while others were trapped by the fires that burned out of control. Hotel customers were seen in their windows signaling desperately for rescue while others flicked their lights on and off in a distress signal.
One group described slinking downstairs, their shoes in their hands to muffle the noise and avoid alerting the terrorists.
"There is fear and paralysis in this part of the city, which is one of the commercial districts," ABC News' Nick Schifrin said from southern Mumbai. "Normally crowded and filled with traffic, the businesses are all shut and there are very few cars on the road. People are definitely staying inside."
The hostage situation played out after a series of coordinated terrorist attacks that paralyzed much of southern Mumbai.
Reportedly among those held captive were Americans, British, Italians, Swedes, Canadians, Yemenis, New Zealanders and a Singaporean.
"The well-planned and well-orchestrated attacks, probably with external linkages, were intended to create a sense of terror by choosing high-profile targets," Prime Minister Singh today said in an address to the nation.
At least 10 different locations were hit in the series of coordinated attacks. Besides two of Mumbai's leading hotels, gunmen opened fire in the main train station, three hospitals and a cafe frequented by westerners.
Photos taken at Chhatrapati Shivaji rail station show scores of dead bodies lying on the terminal floor.
Witnesses at many of the locations reported that the gunmen, armed with AK-47 rifles and grenades, were between the ages of 20 and 25 years and were speaking in Hindi or Urdu.
Security camera footage of the militants show fresh-faced youths seemingly enjoying the mayhem they have unleashed.
From the Oberoi Hotel, one of the militants spoke to an Indian television channel.
"We want all mujahideens held in India released and only after that we will release the people," he said.
"Muslims in India should not be persecuted. We love this as our country but when our mothers and sisters were being killed, where was everybody?" he told the channel.
However, according to the Indian channel NDTV, the Indian Home Affairs Ministry says that no ransom demands have been made.
Rakesh Patel, who had escaped the Taj hotel Wednesday, told NDTV: "They had bombs, there was something, there was a lot of smoke, I guess there were bombs of some sort, yeah. They wanted anyone with British or American passports. Say anyone who had an American or British passports, they wanted to know, so I guess they were after foreigners, yeah, I guess," he said.
The hunt continues for those responsible. Times of India reports that, "Besides army commandos, naval commandos and Rapid Action force personnel joined in the operations to rescue those stranded in the two hotels. Five columns of Army and 200 NSG commandos have been rushed."
"We're going to catch them dead or alive," minister Patil told reporters. "An attack on Mumbai is an attack on India."
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report