Londoners recall the chaos and fear

Bombing: Three near-simultaneous explosions on the subway thrust passengers into a nightmarish scene.

July 10, 2005|By Robert Little and Todd Richissin | Robert Little and Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- Loyita Worley remembers the horror on the faces of other passengers walking through the tunnel, how they looked away from broken bodies blackened by soot. Michael Henning saw a flash of light and streaks of silver, then realized from the blood on his face that he had just seen an explosion, and a shower of flying glass.

Mark Margolis saw only black when the bomb exploded in his subway car, sending limbs of fellow passengers, spears of glass and fragments of metal flying everywhere.

Temporarily blinded, he used his hands to feel the wounds to his head. Then he reached down to see if he still had legs.

London police said yesterday that the three explosions Thursday in the city's subway had detonated almost simultaneously, evidence of greater coordination and sophistication than officials first recognized in an attack that occurred without warning.

The explosion aboard a double-decker bus occurred roughly 57 minutes later, they said.

Police said the number of deaths, now 50, will rise when the last of an unknown number of bodies are removed from a tunnel in the Piccadilly line, deep below street level.

Passengers who survived the bombings describe a momentary, overpowering burst of violence and confusion. But the effects of the explosions have spread far beyond that circle, radiating to envelop almost every resident of the city, the waves of fright, sadness and relief making almost everyone feel like a wounded survivor.

"It wasn't until a day later that I really understood the gravity of it all, how much it had affected not just me but the entire city, maybe the entire country," said Worley, a 49-year-old law librarian from the northern suburb of Finchley. "I think it's left an impact that will never go away."

Londoners are telling their families and friends how a broken shoelace Thursday morning added two minutes to their morning routine, or about taking an earlier train than usual because they feared a drizzle would turn into showers, or about 1,000 other lucky circumstances that caused them to miss a train or bus that would later explode.

On Thursday, Worley was making her regular commute to work by subway, which she and other Londoners call the tube.

She transferred from the subway's Northern line to the Circle line to ride the final two stops to her law office. She had to stand because of the crowd, and she started reading in the Daily Mail about London becoming the host city for the 2012 Olympics.

Henning, heading to a meeting near Tower Bridge, got into the same car one stop later. The 39-year-old banker, who recounted his story in an interview with the BBC, said the first car he tried to board was so full the crowd pushed him back through the doors, forcing him to run to the car behind.

The train pulled away from the Liverpool Street station at about 8:50 a.m. It was 100 yards into the tunnel when a bomb exploded, inside the car that Henning had tried to board.

"I thought I wasn't going to get out of this, whatever it was," Henning recalled. "I just thought, `That was it,' when it went all dark. Then I touched my hand to my face and saw all the blood and felt that it wasn't all over just yet."

"The train stopped immediately, the lights went out, smoke filled the carriage and there was ash and black soot everywhere," said Worley, who was at the opposite end of the car. "Then this low-level emergency lighting came on, and everyone just sort of looked at each other and said, `What the hell was that?'"

The tunnel was silent, except for the sounds of falling debris that reminded Worley of raindrops on a metal roof. Then moaning, then shouting, then a press of people.

But the cars were too tightly packed for people to move.

Nowhere to run

"We started to see just small flickers of flame, and my first thought was `If this is a fire, then we're all dead. There's nowhere for us to go,'" she said. "We heard banging and people shouting, and someone said `They're shouting, `Fire! Fire!' and I said, `No, they're shouting, `Help! Help!'

"I didn't know what they were shouting, but I knew that if people thought it was `Fire! Fire!' they'd all be killing each other in the crush."

At the front of the car, closer to the blast, Henning could see the bloodied victims and people trapped in twisted metal. People were in a panic to get out of the car, but the sliding doors wouldn't open, and riders who attempted to break windows only injured themselves.

"We saw an orange jacket outside, which turned out to be one of the drivers who'd come down to help," Henning told the BBC interviewer outside the Royal London Hospital, where he was treated for injuries to his right eye. "But they couldn't get the doors open, so we decided we were going to walk down the middle of the train."

Worley cringed when she recalled the parade of soot- and blood-covered victims who squeezed toward the train's last car, where an exit door had been opened. She heard people near Henning's end shouting for doctors and nurses.

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