Scenes of Carnage

'In My Mind Was: Am I Dreaming? It Was Surreal'

Remnants of Bus Explosion
The top level of a double-decker bus in London was destroyed in a blast during rush hour today. (Jane Mingay -- AP)
By Glenn Frankel and Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 8, 2005

LONDON, July 7 -- The twisted, smoking wreckage of a red double-decker bus. The sidewalks slick with blood and body parts. Dozens of wounded people screaming in agony or stunned into silence.

This was the scene of devastation that confronted physician Laurence Buckman when he pulled up in front of his office in the British Medical Association building.

Within minutes, Buckman recalled, he and a dozen colleagues set up a makeshift MASH unit in the building's stately courtyard and started treating the victims. They worked for four hours, helping people with multiple fractures, burns, chest and head injuries and, in some cases, missing limbs. Two people died in the courtyard while doctors worked desperately to help them.

"We did what we could," a weary Buckman recalled in a telephone interview Thursday evening. "Did we save lives? I hope a few people had their chances of survival enhanced."

Throughout London, victims, witnesses and rescuers recalled a day that many had expected, even dreaded, but for which no one was quite ready. Some saw the dead; others expected to die themselves. The survivors emerged marked by bloodstains, soot and tiny shards of glass, and haunted by what they had seen and heard in the dark, suffocating tunnels where they waited to be rescued, or aboard a morning bus that suddenly exploded.

Fiona Trueman, 26, of St. Albans was aboard the Piccadilly Line train on which the most people were killed. "There was a massive bang, the train lights went out and there was a lot of smoke and glass smashing," she recalled. "There was four or five seconds, and then everyone was going, 'Oh my God, we can't breathe.' What was running round in my mind was: Am I dreaming? It was surreal. The bomb was in front of the train or on the tracks. I was in the second carriage. There was screaming and coughing with the smoke.

"It was pitch black and people were getting their mobiles," she said. "Everyone was screaming to break the windows. No one was telling us anything; there was no contact from the driver. I don't even know if he made it, to be honest. The screams from the carriage in front of us were terrible."

"I think the driver passed away," said 25-year-old Joseph Aka, another Piccadilly Line passenger. "Because when the train exploded, he didn't say anything after that.

"People started shouting, 'Help, help!' " Aka said. "No one came to help."

Survivors from the Piccadilly Line estimated they spent half an hour trapped in the blackness, smoke and blood of the subway cars. Some said they wept. Others strained to make conversation, asking strangers what work they did. The cries of the wounded made it difficult. "The screams from the carriage in front of us were terrible," Trueman said.

Passengers finally made it out through the mostly intact rear car. Feeling their way, they walked 15 minutes back to the King's Cross station, fearful all the time of electrocution from the tracks, Aka said. The strong helped the injured, walking past mutilated, motionless bodies, he said.

"People were still in their seats and they were screaming with pain," said Michael Henning, 39, a city employee who was aboard another subway line, the first believed hit. "There were other people that were trapped, and they were just left down there."

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