Everyday subway life meets singular tragedy

Bombings In London

`Tube' Horror

July 08, 2005|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - A young waiter with a wallet too thin for a cab ride was wandering around Trafalgar Square lost in thought yesterday, not long after the subway was bombed, trying to figure a way home that wouldn't require walking forever.

A lot of people in London were doing the same, trying to make do without the "Tube" - just for one day.

Finally, the waiter - his name is Csaba Ziga, 25, and he had recently moved to London from Budapest, Hungary - accepted what he already knew: Without the Tube there was no other way home. The fare for a cab, if he could find one, would eat a paycheck. Taking the bus would require two transfers.

He'd have to walk.

"It's not really as if it's so far that I'll faint," he said, guessing it would take about 45 minutes to walk to his apartment in the south London neighborhood of Elephant & Castle. "But I couldn't do this every day."

Nor could about 3.4 million other people who rely on the system every weekday.

For most Londoners who need to travel beyond the distance they're willing to walk, the Tube is an essential part of life.

For many yesterday, it turned into a nightmare.

Those who escaped serious injury in the blasts recounted both the horrific experiences of the day and the moments of kindness and camaraderie between people brought together by what one commuter called a "war spirit."

Joanna Myerson, 29, thinks she passed bodies as she walked along the tracks after escaping the explosion near the Liverpool Street station, where seven died. But she tried not to look.

"This bloke took me by the hand and said, `Look at the floor. I'll guide you past it,'" she said yesterday. "But I still saw some of it."

Everything came to a grinding halt after the blast, Myerson said.

"I could see a fire outside the train," she said. "Then everything got quiet, and I could hear people screaming from the next carriage."

Richard Dicken, 33, who was on the same train on his way to work at the Australian Embassy at Aldgate, saw two people between the tracks beside a car with its doors bombed out.

"There was one guy who was sitting up," Dicken said. "He looked completely dazed. He was covered either in burns or black smoke, just covered in it."

Tas Frangoullides was evacuated from King's Cross, the worst-hit station, where at least 22 people died.

"Loads of glass showered down over everyone; the glass in the doors in between all the carriages shattered," Frangoullides told the BBC.

"There was a lot of smoke and a lot of dust. There were some areas of panic. I could hear screams," Frangoullides said. "People were trying to work out what happened. A lot of people were covered in blood."

Gary Lewis, 32, who was evacuated from the same station, said, "People were running everywhere and screaming. The one haunting image was someone whose face was totally black and pouring with blood."

Simon Corvett, 26, on a train from Edgware Road station, described "this massive huge bang. ... It was absolutely deafening and all the windows shattered."

"You could see the carriage opposite was completely gutted," he said. "There were some people in real trouble."

A Swedish woman who was also riding toward Edgware said she heard the blast behind her train.

"Everything went black, and people threw themselves to the floor in panic," Cornelia Berg told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet by phone.

"The car quickly filled with smoke and a lot of people used their umbrellas to try to break the windows so that we could get air. A mother with her two small children sat next to me and cried desperately."

When passengers left the train, she said, they saw body parts scattered around the station.

London's subway system has been a target in the past. The Irish Republican Army, the armed group opposing British rule in Northern Ireland, repeatedly planted small bombs on the system but never with the devastating effect of yesterday's explosions. Usually such bombings were preceded by warnings to authorities.

In 2002, after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, three North African men were arrested in London on charges of plotting to attack the Tube.

In 2003, London's emergency services staged a mock chemical attack on an underground station, designed to simulate the attack that hit the Tokyo underground in 1995. In the Japanese capital, the Aum Supreme Truth cult released sarin gas, killing 12 people and injuring 5,000.

Since then, the British media have reported that the government has secretly staged several similar exercises.

Other subway systems also have been the target of attacks. In 1995, an Algerian militant group bombed the Paris Metro, killing eight people and wounding more than 200.

After the bombing of above-ground trains in Madrid, Spain, last year, the British media expressed fears that chaos would ensue if an attack struck London's Underground.

Many of the bombing survivors will undoubtedly be forced to confront yesterday's horrors all too soon: All Tube lines were expected to be running today after the system's total shutdown yesterday.

"I don't feel safe at all," said Sean Kelly, 55. "I couldn't relax in a bus or a Tube." If he has to travel on one or the other, he said, "I'll be looking over my shoulder."

Other Londoners said they would carry on with life as usual.

"I can't let the fear get to me," said Damion Anderson, a 32-year-old musician. "I don't want anyone else to let me feel that I can't ... do my thing that I've done for 25 years."

Ziga, the walking waiter, confessed that he was certain he would be nervous because of yesterday's carnage and the knowledge that there are no guarantees it won't be attacked again.

"At the end of the day, I have no choice," he reasoned. "I'll be back on the Tube."

The Los Angeles Times and Newsday contributed to this article.

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