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Witnesses describe panic, chaos of Boston bombings


US media and ordinary citizens captured scenes of confusion, chaos and grief following two deadly explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday. Eyewitnesses described the moment the bombs went off and the ensuing mayhem.


Nancy Caroline Smith had crossed the Boston Marathon’s finish line moments earlier. Still catching her breath after the 26.2-mile race, she heard a bang behind her, but was not immediately aware of any danger. She was among some 17,000 runners who had finished the marathon on Monday when a deadly blast ripped through the finish-line area, turning a joyous spectacle into a nightmare.

“I felt the ground rumble. It sounded like a cannon blast. Over the harbour in Boston, in Charleston, every sunset there’s a cannon that blasts and that’s actually what it sounded like, like a celebratory blast,” Smith recalled.


Baffled by the sound, she did not have time to focus her mind before a second bang threw up another cloud of smoke less than 90 metres down the track. “After the second blast went off everyone that was in the area just started running, not really knowing what was happening, just running and ducking for cover,” Smith told FRANCE 24.

Brian Halligan, a resident of the Boston neighbourhood where the twin bombs struck, was working on his computer at the time of the attack. “The explosion shook my entire apartment building, it’s a 26-storey apartment building and I could feel the entire building shake,” he said in a phone interview.

“Then 10 or 15 seconds later a second explosion. Almost immediately after that I could hear lots of screaming and I knew something was very, very wrong. I looked out the window of my apartment and saw dozens, probably hundreds of people fleeing the area up the side streets that connect Boylston Street [where the first bomb explosion occurred] to Huntington Avenue.

“My pulse started to race then. I started to hyperventilate a little bit because I knew, you just knew that it was something terrible, and that it wasn’t an accident,” Halligan said.

Gratien Bou, a French expatriate living in Boston, was watching the marathon on what was, until then, a beautiful spring day. He said he was standing a few hundred metres from the first bomb when it went off. “It was instant chaos. The runners were completely disoriented, and people were running around in tears trying to find their family and friends,” he said.

Fear of more bombs

Halligan said he did not wait for authorities to order the evacuation of the area surrounding the site of the attack. “I went outside almost immediately afterwards because I heard reports that there was another device possibly in front of the Mandarin Hotel, which is even closer to my apartment building,” he said, adding that later on Monday police ordered all residents to exit his building.

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“I was out on the street and it was just general confusion… people were gathering and milling about just not sure where to go,” Halligan continued. “So I made my way down to the Christian Science Center to go out into an open space area because I just didn’t feel safe staying in a large crowd of people. We started hearing reports that there were other devices that had not been detonated yet.”

“It was so hard. Your mind is a little foggy, so you’re not comprehending everything correctly at that point. It’s just so hard to tell,” said the runner Smith. “When I looked [at the bomb sit] I guess I wasn’t thinking terrorist attack, but then yet part of me was. I lived in New York City during 2011, during those terrorist attacks. It was kind of surreal feeling at that moment.”

Bou, the Boston resident originally from France, was surprised at how quickly police sealed off the area around the marathon’s finish line. “There were police squad cars and ambulances as far as you could see. This event gathers some of the largest crowds in Boston and there is already lots of security on hand,” he said, wondering if a larger police presence could have averted the attack.

At least three people died and over 100 were injured –several critically– as a result of Monday’s explosions. Reports claim around 60 people lost limbs in the attack.

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