Aldgate East: 'Smoke poured into the carriage, but we couldn't break the windows'

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The Independent Online

At 8.50am, Manjit Dhanjal was sitting on a packed Circle Line train between Aldgate East and Liverpool Street station, on her way to work in the City. "There were a few sparks and I thought it was just a power surge," Miss Dhanjal, 26, said. "Then I saw this fireball a few carriages in front of me, and everything went black.

"No one knew what was happening; there was just panic. I could hear people screaming and we thought someone would come and tell us what was happening, but no one did for ages. Just before the explosion I had been thinking about my 26th birthday on Monday. Now I thought I was going to die."

A few seats away from her was 19-year-old Ana Castro, a Portuguese student who, two weeks ago, had arrived in London as an intern with a bank in the City. It was her first trip on the Tube.

All of a sudden, there was an explosion and everyone went down," she said. "Black smoke poured into the carriage and I couldn't breathe. People were trying to force the doors open because they couldn't break the windows.

"It was indescribable. People were shouting for help and saying they were dying."

The blast occurred in a carriage at the front of the train, around 50 metres from the Aldgate East platform. The blast echoed through the tunnel, causing many commuters and City workers to think other bombs had exploded at Liverpool Street and Moorgate, leading to more panic and confusion. Emergency services rushed to the scene and began evacuating people from the train, but the site of the blast meant that the survivors had to walk past the carriage where the bomb had exploded.

Ms Dhanjal said: "It was horrendous. People were lying on the floor, covered in blood, screaming "Help me, I'm dying," but the paramedics couldn't get to them. The train had been packed and it just looked like carnage in there - there were a lot of head and facial injuries from glass in the carriage that had gone flying."

Ms Castro said: "I saw a dead body. It was awful. There were people staggering around in their underwear, their clothes ripped off. People were fainting and collapsing. We just wanted to get outside, into the air, where we could feel safe, but then we got outside and there was just total panic."

The Royal London Hospital dealt with more than 200 injured passengers as the sounds of sirens became almost constant between the bomb site and the casualty department. Severely injured patients were wheeled into hospital, their faces blackened with soot and blood and hidden by oxygen masks. Around 170 walking wounded were brought to the Royal London on six London buses - some with obvious gashes and bandages. Others had bandaged heads and were wrapped in tin foil blankets.

Caroline Chrodock, 31, an office manager from Finchley, emerged from the hospital with her clothes splattered with the blood of other passengers. She suffered perforated eardrums and cuts to her face when an explosion ripped through her Piccadilly line tube train at Kings Cross. "It had just come out of Kings Cross when there was a loud bang and a bright light," Ms Chrodock said. "Everyone was thrown to the floor. Then there was just darkness and screaming. Everyone was terrified, smoke was pouring into the carriage. It took 20 minutes for anyone to come to help us. I thought I was going to die. It was that bad. You just didn't know what had happened. People were crying and screaming. It was very bad."

Dominated by the Swiss Re Tower, affectionately known as the Gherkin, the area around Aldgate St and Liverpool St is at the heart of London's financial district and is the habitat of the world-weary London commuter, used to security alerts that shut down tube stations on a regular basis - a source of mere irritation in the past. But yesterday was no drill and there was chaos and confusion among commuters being fed conflicting information about which trains had been hit. Survivors, shaken and bloodied, emerged from theunderground and were taken to nearby hospitals, while panicked commuters were hurried away by police and firemen.

As news of the blast spread, buildings were evacuated and crowds of bewildered office workers were herded away from Aldgate by mounted policemen shouting commands through loud-hailers. Many were frightened, trying to call friends and family on mobile phones that refused to work; others were simply confused and trying to find out what had happened. Julian Goodwood, of the City of London Police, said: "There were hundreds of officers and emergency service workers here pretty quickly. Our main concern was to cordon off the area in case there were any more blasts."

Children from a local infants' school just a few hundred yards from Aldgate station were evacuated, and the nearby St Botolphs church was turned into a holding centre for the walking wounded and arriving staff. Paramedics on motorcycles sped to the scene with blood supplies.

Mr Goodwood said: "It was pretty bad down there. Our staff are trained to deal with these things but it can still be pretty horrendous, even if you are remaining calm and dealing with the situation."

As mobile phone networks overloaded, rumours spread that the security services had shut down the communication systems because they feared the blasts were being detonated by mobiles. Long queues formed outside public phone boxes and arguments broke out as people became frustrated at waiting.

As the afternoon wore on, more and more people decided to stop waiting for their offices to reopen and make the long journey home.

'All I could see was fire. My face was burning'

John Simpson, a City worker from Gloucester, said: "All I could see was fire everywhere. My face was burning and for a moment I thought I was actually on fire.

"All I could see were bodies lying in the tube and on the tracks. None of them were moving and I assume they were all dead. They were in a pretty bad state.

"Then another Tube going in the opposite direction pulled up and the driver helped us onto his Tube and out to where emergency services were waiting."

Maxine Frith