Londoners recall the chaos and fear

THE BALTIMORE SUN

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.

"Anybody who could walk they brought through the carriage, people with cuts and T-shirts to their head, blood dripping," she said. "Everybody was white and black - black with soot and white with fear."

A German family who had brought their grandson to London for his birthday began to sob. A 23-year-old woman said she was going to be sick, and Worley held her hand. The shock got worse as all the passengers slowly filed to the end of the last car, jumped onto a parallel track and filed toward the front past the car that had exploded.

They had to step over pieces of the car's roof, and could see some of what police would confirm were seven of the day's fatalities.

"The ceiling of the car was blown off, the sides were blown out, it's all black, I saw bodies lying there," Worley said. "They were helping a man down out of the car and all his clothes were blown off. He was covered in soot from head to foot. I've never seen a dead body before, but I just knew that some of those people were not going to be alive. There were bodies lying in the bottom of the carriage, and no one was trying to help them."

The scene above ground was also one of chaos. The bus had exploded by the time the wounded made it out of the tunnel, and the streets were a logjam of trapped vehicles.

With more than 700 injuries caused by the four explosions, London didn't have nearly enough ambulances. Police commandeered some of the city's double-decker red buses to help.

"We couldn't take the shortest route to the hospital; we had to go the long way around, of course, with all the gridlock traffic," Henning said. "We didn't have a police escort, but we had one brave cocker who stood at the front and shouted at people and got off and did a lot of running to make sure we got there."

'We're going to die'

Mark Margolis was less fortunate than Worley and Henning but very lucky indeed.

He was taking a different subway train and had ended up in an exploding car with the severed limbs of passengers ricocheting off windows, because of a wrinkled shirt.

He had planned to take his wife to the West End to see the musical Chicago after work, which meant his shirt needed pressing, which meant he picked up an iron for the first time in months, which meant he left home a bit later than he would have. It meant that, ultimately, he ended up in a smoke-filled tunnel that, still today, is a tomb for some of his fellow passengers.

"I didn't know whether I was going to die or not," he said in an interview yesterday. "What I did know is that the chances I would die were just as good as the chances of me being here right now."

Margolis had left his house in Finsbury Park, in northern London, at about 8:10 a.m. that morning. He would usually take the first train that arrived on the Piccadilly line from Finsbury to Hammersmith Station, then walk to his job as a project manager at a software company called Digiterre.

The trains on the Piccadilly line that morning, though, as usual, had delays, which meant that the first train that arrived was so packed with people that there was barely any standing room.

So he waited for the next one.

He was sitting in the first car of that train, just behind the driver's booth, when it left the King's Cross tube station, the fourth stop from Finsbury.

He was reading the novel Hyperion, by Dan Simmons, and had just gotten to a scene about a woman being abducted.

In the scene, she is threatening to explode a bomb.

"I just remember a big pop, and then everything going black, and the train was still moving, but it was vibrating quite a lot, and then there was all of this screaming," Margolis said. "I could hear, 'We're going to die! We're going to die!'"

The tube driver yelled to the passengers that his radio was dead so he did not know if the tracks were still electrified.

The screaming drowned out his words. Not even Margolis, standing right next to him, could hear. The driver yelled louder to the people closest to him, told them to pass the message down the line.

The bomb had been placed at the back of the train. Passengers, some of them with limbs lost, some of them dead, were strewn about.

Margolis, his eyes adjusting, began to see silhouettes. Smoke was pouring.

The driver decided he had to empty the train, electrified tracks or not.

Filing out

The Piccadilly line is among the deepest and oldest in London's tube system. The trains pass through tunnels barely bigger than they are. The walls of the tunnels were barely a foot from the sides of the subway cars, so the driver directed people out its front.

"Walk in the center!" he yelled to the passengers as he took their hands and eased them out the front of the train, Margolis recalled. "Walk in a straight line!"

Soot floated everywhere, stuck to the passengers, to their sweat and to their blood.

The screaming continued.

Margolis is an experienced diver, which seems a skill unlikely to come in handy in a brick tunnel 70 feet deep in the earth, but it did.

"I don't think I thought of diving itself," he said. "But what I think I knew from my training and from experience is how panic will kill you faster than anything else."

He had remained silent during the screams, trying to determine his injuries, trying to figure out why he was smelling burning rubber and whether there was a fire and, if so, how to best avoid it.

Now, he did as the driver instructed and was walking in a single-file line of women who had carefully applied their makeup before work and now were covered in soot and blood, in a line of men who had been wearing suits fresh from the dry-cleaners that were now shorn off at the knees.

Margolis was covered in blood. His white shirt, the neatly pressed one, was bloody and black, too.

He walked to the Russell Square station, which should have been the train's next stop and called his wife, Sarah.

She was headed to work, unaware of the bombings. He left a voice mail message.

"His first words were 'I'm absolutely fine,'" she recalled, sitting next to him. "When you hear that, your first reaction is, 'Oh my God, what's happened?'"

He told medics at the scene that he would go to a hospital on his own, one far away from the explosion. They asked him to stay but relented when he told them that, after a couple of calls, he and his wife had spoken. She would be meeting him, and it would help everyone if she took him to a hospital far away, he told them, because it seemed that the ones nearby were about to get very, very busy.

Sarah Margolis was now rushing to meet him. That is when the bomb blew up in the bus, on Tavistock Square.

She heard the explosion but carried on and spotted her husband at Russell Square. "I had talked to him, so I knew he wasn't too bad, and he sounded calm, but then he never really shows much emotion," she said. "But then I saw him walking toward me, and I wasn't prepared for what I saw."

He was bleeding from the entire right side of his face. The blood had gushed enough that it followed the contours of his face, down his neck, onto his chest. Whatever was not red was black from soot.

"You couldn't see his skin," his wife said.

When they hugged, Mark Margolis, calm through it all, finally let the sights, the sounds -- all that he had absorbed on this Thursday morning, which had started like so many others -- spill out.

"I was crying and hugging him," she said. "And he was crying too."

He has recalled that morning over and over, but what has been a defining characteristic of London as a whole since the explosions has been its resolve.

Back at the hospital where Henning was taken, his wounds were cleaned, his face bandaged, his eye patched, and he moved on.

Worley, after escaping the carnage, got to ground, washed her face and then reported for work.

And on Friday, with no real reason other than to short-circuit any fears and to make a statement to the attackers, Margolis and his wife hopped on the tube.

They rode three times.

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