Blast rips park in Atlanta Hundreds injured

near concert attended by thousands

'Rivers of blood'

Explosion occurs near a tower after a bomb scare: ATLANTA OLYMPICS

July 27, 1996|By Bill Glauber and Ken Rosenthal | Bill Glauber and Ken Rosenthal,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- An explosion rocked the heart of Centennial Olympic Park early this morning shortly after a bomb scare, injuring scores of people, according to Atlanta Fire Department officials.

Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell told NBC that one person was confirmed dead and 50 to 60 were injured.

An unidentified spokeswoman said that 150 to 200 people were injured about 1: 15 a.m.

A morgue attendant at the Fulton County medical examiner's office, R. Green, said he was told by the bomb squad that four people had been killed. This could not be confirmed at press time.

The explosion struck a tower near the AT&T soundstage, the main entertainment area in the park, where thousands of Olympic partygoers were watching a concert. The tower, apparently used for lighting and sound, was still standing after the blast. Debris littered the base of the structure.

Police cordoned off the area for several blocks around where the explosion occurred, forming lines by interlocking arms and driving back tourists and journalists. They said the security net was to protect bystanders from further explosions.

President Clinton, who has been in Atlanta twice during the Olympics, was awakened and told of the blast, White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta told NBC.

There was no immediate indication of the cause of the blast. The last fatalities connected to an Olympic Games were the 11 Israeli athletes killed by terrorists at the Munich Games in 1972.

"It's horrible -- the worst fears," said Bob Brennan, a spokesman for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

Brennan said there were no plans to al

ter Saturday's schedule of sports events.

"Oh yes, I am assuming we can conduct the games," he said. "We don't know what happened, how it happened. So much speculation going on that it's difficult to know exactly what happened."

The explosion echoed through the heart of the downtown. Thousands of people were forced from the park by police and fire officials.

Eyewitness say police told them there was a bomb scare just before the explosion.

Max Schindler Jr., an NBC cameraman, said he was told by a security man to leave the tower because of a bomb scare.

"We were on live, we came off the tower and walked away 100 yards, and heard the explosion," he told reporters. "It was a very large explosion. Much louder than a Fourth of July display."

Schindler said there were people lying on the ground after the blast. "I saw at least four or five people on the ground hurt," he said.

Emergency vehicles quickly lined up alongside the park. At least 25 ambulances left the scene with lights flashing; still more were pulling in.

Eyewitness Terry Tyson told the Associated Press: "I thought it was fireworks, like a big boom and I saw three guys laying in the street. They all had leg injuries, blood was running down the street. It was horrible."

Tom Williams was standing across the street when he "heard the tower blow up."

"I was walking along and three people were laying in the street. I didn't see any fire, just smoke."

Snenetricus Warford said the explosion appeared to come from a garbage can.

"I looked up and there was fire and smoke going up," he told the Associated Press. "People were there, it blew them over."

Reuters reported that another eyewitness, Greg Guice, said, "The trash can exploded in front of my eyes. People were screaming. One person's head was cut from side to side."

Centennial Olympic Park was at the heart of the Olympic festivities, adjacent to three major sporting arenas and filled with thousands of people who strolled to corporate pavilions.

When the explosion had occurred, sports competition had ended for the evening.

The blast occurred as U.S. swimmer Janet Evans was interviewed on German television. She looked horrified as she walked away. She gathered herself and walked out of camera range. The explosion was followed by the sound of broken glass.

A local television cameraman said: "I was 30 to 50 feet away when I felt the concussion of the explosion."

He told NBC that police had planned to clear the area because a suspicious package was noticed.

The eyewitness reports could not be immediately confirmed with local police.

Knight-Ridder News Service reported that Jeff Mitchell, from Atlanta, a witness at the concert, said: "It blew me in the chest. It was a muffled explosion. Debris flew over the fence that lines the park."

Desmond Edwards, an Atlanta schoolteacher who witnessed the blast, said: "I felt the ground shake."

The Games were subjected to the most elaborate security in history, with 30,000 federal troops spearheading a $301 million operation.

The athletes' village at Georgia Tech was surrounded by barricades and razor wire. Fingerprint identification was used for athletic credentials. Spectators had to pass through an array of security barriers, but there were consistent reports throughout the Games of people just wandering by some of the security.

Two Dutch fans even wandered into the main Olympic stadium only days before the opening ceremonies. On the night of the ceremonies, a man dressed in a security uniform with a loaded handgun and a knife went undetected in the stadium for 90 minutes.

There were at least three bomb scares in the opening days of the Olympics, including the night of the opening ceremonies, when the international broadcasting center was cleared because police were investigating a suspicious package.

Mark Field from KNBC in Los Angeles was shooting footage near a white sound and light tower.

"A security guard tried to move us back because he said there was a suspicious package. We got about 50 feet away and turned back. About five minutes later, we saw a large flash-bang. It did not seem like that large a bomb because the package was not that big, but pieces were flying everywhere."

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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