Edgware Road: Darkness, soot and silence. And then screaming

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The Independent Online

It was another mundane morning commute for Circle Line passengers, until at 9.17 at Edgware Road station their west-bound Tube train was shattered by an explosion that ripped metal apart and reduced windows to shards of flying glass.

The occupants were engulfed in darkness, soot and a momentary silence before the screams and sobs started. In the confusion no one could know that seven people had died and hundreds were injured, 36 seriously.

"There was a massive bang. It blew out our windows at the back," said Travis Banko, who was in the carriage ahead of the blast. The 24-year-old Australian said: "We were covered in glass. We sat in darkness for five minutes trying not to inhale too much soot and crap. There were people screaming.

"The second carriage was badly damaged. It had been completely ripped apart like it had been opened with a can opener. I don't even want to know what happened to the people inside."

Hysterical passengers panicked. Some forced open the doors as the driver tried to calm them over the intercom.

"It was terrifying," said Ben McCarthy, another passenger. "People were incredibly calm but very, very shocked. The screams from the guy who was under the train obviously made the whole incident so much worse."

Carol Miller, 35, and Lauren Shorter, 21, workmates from Oxford, were on an eastbound train that was passing the stricken train as the blast occurred. "I saw one lady who was ripped to pieces, lying between the two trains," Ms Miller said.

Her friend added: "It was the most horrendous thing I've ever seen in my life. People were screaming out, there was debris everywhere. We were trying to open doors to let in air but we couldn't."

A Tube worker, Tony Dodd, 39, added: "It was pretty awful down there. There were bodies and people were very badly burned."

Slowly the passengers left the train and walked down the dark tunnel to safety. Mr Banko said: "It was pretty scary. You couldn't see anything and there was smoke. Some people were crying. But the people from my carriage realised we were all OK and people bonded together. It was very surreal, like a movie. I was just on my way to work."

As they emerged above ground, passengers were immediately examined, with the seriously injured taken to the nearby St Mary's Hospital by a stream of ambulances.

At 9.26am hospital staff received a text message saying: "Major incident ... please attend." Immediately a business-like calm descended upon the hospital as staff prepared for incoming victims. Julian Nettel, chief executive, said: "At St Mary's the last major incident was not that long ago - the Paddington rail crash. Staff have prearranged instruction that worked very well this morning."

At Edgware Road station, the walking wounded, some covered in glass cuts, others suffering from smoke inhalation, were led in a sober, stunned file through the flashing lights of dozens of fire engines and ambulances to the Hilton London Metropole hotel opposite.

The reception and lounge were turned into an emergency medical centre; a hospital doctor organised patients according to the seriousness of their injuries. Shopping trolleys loaded with medical supplies were wheeled in. Nurses, health workers and volunteers arrived to offer help.

Sean Baran, an American student who joined the volunteer rescue squad in Virginia after the terrorist attacks of 11 September, was on a bus travelling towards Edgware Road station when he noticed a woman with glass cuts and got off to help. At the medical centre, he saw about 60 people milling around with a mixture of injuries, mostly smoke inhalation and cuts.

"It was pretty quiet. Everyone was very shocked. There were about three seriously injured people but most were relatively OK," said Mr Baran, 20. "A lot of people were slightly confused. They had had their bubble of security shattered."

Superintendent John Morgan said survivors were swiftly removed from the area as bomb squad officers and dogs checked for suspect devices. Within hours the scene had been handed to specialist forensic science officers. "We do not want to jeopardise the evidence," Superintendent Morgan said.

Outside confusion reigned as people gathered around shopfront television screens to watch the news and tried to get through to friends and family on the overloaded mobile network.

"Some people came and told us at that something had happened", says George Wasuf, owner of the Halal restaurant opposite Edgware Road station.

"But what? We never thought about closing, because we didn't hear any explosion or nothing. Yes, we see all the police, but it doesn't seem to be dangerous outside, so why close?"

One passenger said he was lucky to escape the carnage. "I got on the train at King's Cross," said Tim Smith, "and I was meant to come into Edgware Road. Both stations were hit. I'd be seriously fearful about getting back on the Tube after this."

But by yesterday evening a strange sense of normality had returned to Edgware Road. Only the blue and white "do not cross" tape and police officers standing guard at the entrance to the Tube station offered any clue to the horror that had erupted beneath ground just hours earlier.

'I just saw a flash of light and felt a burning sensation'

Chris Randall, 28, was in Edgware Road station on his way to work at the Daily Mail in Kensington when the explosion rocked the carriage. He was being treated last night in St Mary's hospital in Paddington.

"I didn't hear anything, just saw a flash of light and felt a burning sensation in my hand. I fell to the floor and covered my face with my hands. There were six or seven people lying on the floor, a lot of people, a lot of blood on faces and ripped clothes.

"I had no thoughts of what had happened, I just had to get out of the train. There were 40 other passengers in the carriage, screaming through the commotion. I assumed the train must have hit something, just because it was still in one piece and there was no fire.

"About three or four carriages towards the driver were blacked out, and I couldn't see whether people were moving in the carriages or not.

"The lights seemed fine further down the train. I made my way up to the concourse where firefighters and paramedics had started to arrive.

"There were other passengers in a similar condition sitting around, wrapped in blankets. I rang my girlfriend and half an hour later paramedics took me to accident and emergency in an ambulance. The explosion left me with cuts and burns to the face, legs and hands."

Genevieve Roberts