For some reason, Joanna Ganson decided not to take the subway yesterday to her internship at the British Parliament. If she had followed her morning pattern, she would have been riding the tube when a bomb went off.
For Ganson and hundreds of other Washington area students in London, it was a day of routine torn apart, of jammed phone lines, of BBC updates and long walks through crowded streets. College of William and Mary junior Lauren Terrill arrived in England to sirens and buses shut down. She bought a phone card to let her parents know she was all right.
As night fell, Ganson and fellow graduate students from Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies -- in London for the summer -- gathered at a pub near Kings Cross, reliving a morning of close calls and surreal moments.
Sebastien Pascual told of leaving his flat early to get ID pictures for his visa application to attend graduate school at Hopkins. Pascual, who is French, spent about 15 minutes in the Liverpool subway station in a photo booth and then went to his internship in a building just overhead. From the fifth floor, he didn't hear the explosion, the first yesterday morning, but he did hear ambulances screaming by.
Strange bulletins began coming over the news wires, and security people told his co-workers to stay inside. Everyone stared at the plasma TVs trying to find out what was happening. "We were outside of everything, closed in the building," he said in a telephone interview. "Suddenly, we were at the center of world news, without being directly involved."
Another Hopkins student, Ruben Diaz-Plaja, from Spain, slept late yesterday. By the time he got to the Kings Cross station, the second bomb had exploded, and he was told that there had been a power surge in the tube. He walked to the next station and took the tube from there to his internship. At work, people were talking about an explosion; he had caught one of the last trains before the system was shut down.
Michael Waldron was walking to the Kings Cross station about 9 a.m. when he got a text message from his summer roommate, who had left a few minutes ahead of him, telling him the station was closed. So he walked on to Russell Square, found that station was closed, waited for a bus for a while, and saw police cordon off an area nearby.
He started walking and heard a tremendous boom and felt a concussion in the air. Everyone else kept walking. "Nobody batted an eye," said Waldron, a Hopkins student from Ohio. "But I served four years in the Army [in Afghanistan]. I knew it was a bomb."
He thought maybe a bomb squad was doing some kind of drill underground. When he finally got to work, he looked on the Internet and thought, "Whoa." He had walked within several hundred feet of the double-decker bus ripped apart by a bomb.
It was after 10 a.m. when Ganson got off the bus she took instead of the subway. All the riders were told that they had to walk the rest of the way into the center of London. She tried to call her family and friends to find out what was happening, but her cell phone didn't work. She kept thinking of Sept. 11, 2001, when she was an undergraduate at Princeton University trying to reach her parents all day. They worked just a few blocks from the World Trade Center.
"Not being able to call anyone was terrifying to me," she said.
She passed a store with a TV and stopped there, reading the news scrolling across.
At the pub last night, Ganson said, she and her friends crowded around the TV, watching the news, drinking beer and analyzing the politics of the attack. The streets were still full of people, she said, and sirens kept breaking through the pub noise.
"I don't think it's sunk in," Ganson said. "I don't think it's sunk in yet."