It was three hours before Jerry Muthana, who lives five minutes from one of the London Underground stations involved in Thursday's terror attacks, could contact friends about his near miss.
"Don't worry, I can't be killed using conventional weapons," he joked in a brief e-mail to 19 friends -- the first contact he had with any of them since the explosions that morning.
The recipients knew his usual route to work would have taken him through one of the affected areas at the time of the attack. But Muthana had been out of touch since the blast. Several of his friends were concerned.
At 8:51 a.m. Thursday, the first of a sequence of four bombs exploded on a Circle Line train, yards from Aldgate East. Normally, Muthana would have been on a train leaving the station about that time. If it wasn't for a quirk of fate -- Muthana was asked to open the office that day, so he had left for work a half-hour earlier than usual -- he, too, could have been trapped in that tunnel, injured or worse.
Jo Adetunji, a close friend of Muthana's, knew that and was upset by her inability to reach him. "I called him, couldn't get through; texted him, e-mailed him and then e-mailed everyone to say had you heard from him," she said in a telephone interview yesterday. But she heard nothing.
While even a decade ago silence in such circumstances wouldn't have been a surprise, cell phones and e-mail have spawned an addiction to staying in touch.
For many in London, the alarm was heightened because the attacks disrupted mobile phone networks for several hours. Travel chaos prevented people from reaching their access to e-mail.
As America discovered after Sept. 11 and Asia found after last December's tsunami, those first exchanges between family and friends are a crucial part of restoring a sense of normalcy.
Many of those first messages reflected a phlegmatic, stoical attitude in the face of adversity. Richard Elwes, a PhD student from Leeds, learned of the attacks about 2 p.m. and immediately text-messaged 10 friends: "You OK?" Ivan Wise, a charity worker from London, texted "Are you dead" to a friend. By the afternoon, most phone networks were up and running, and dry, sarcastic text messages were flying across the country.
Fiona Roach, a management consultant in London, e-mailed friends: "Thinking of buying a cottage in Devon . . . "
After he sent his cryptic "You OK?" message, Elwes said yesterday, "mostly I got a vague, dry humor in response, friends confirming that they still had all their limbs attached. One friend said he was still in bed when it happened, so I replied he should throw himself out of the window. My original text message wasn't humorous, but I didn't want to break into humor until I was sure they hadn't been killed."
Some U.S. commentators praised the "very stoic, very reserved" response by those caught in the blasts. One American TV producer based in Russell Square reported the "very British" reaction to the tragedy after several office workers offered tea and sympathy to the walking wounded.
Richard Limentani, a film school student in Paris who is visiting London this week, said: "Humor felt inappropriate before lunchtime, but afterwards it was fine. One friend received by e-mail a party invite at 10 a.m. and thought the sender should have waited until after lunch. That seemed to be the cutoff after which humor was acceptable. Nothing really sick, just sarcasm, joking rather than boring. It is just a defense mechanism."
But for those farther away, the distance seemed to make the attacks harder to bear. Matt Shapiro, a Canadian who studied at university in Cambridge, England, for three years, said that it was difficult to watch from afar the devastation in a city he loved. He sent a fraught -- very un-British -- e-mail to friends after the attack. "I am so happy that everyone is alright. I'm thinking of you all and wishing I was there to put my arms around you all."