A disconcerting silence enveloped Ealing Broadway yesterday. It may simply have been the lack of traffic which forms a permanent backdrop to London life, but it seemed appropriately sombre.
Behind the blue and white police cordon, row upon row of empty shops led from every compass point to the scene of yesterday's devastating bomb.
A few mangled pieces of metal and a steering wheel were all that remained of the grey Saab which had contained the fertiliser bomb.
The awning of a men's clothes shop dangled limply above the wreck, its shattered windows mirroring the destruction. Twisted metal chairs lay on the pavement outside a Mexican restaurant where a board advertised a happy hour. Debris carpeted the entire area where the few items still left intact – a pot plant and a traffic light – appeared strangely out of place. London Fire Brigade spokesman Derek Thorpe estimated the damage would cost "millions and millions of pounds".
Only a few hours earlier the area had been packed with people enjoying the numerous pubs and clubs.
At 11.33pm an on-call doctor's service received a warning that there was a bomb in the area. The 999 call to police led to a search against the clock with vague directions leading to initial confusion. Eventually the Saab, containing 88lb of explosives, was located with just minutes to spare and less than100 metres from the Tube station and several pubs. Police started to evacuate the area but, shortly after midnight, the bomb exploded before they could complete the task.
Darryn Crout, manager of the Hogshead pub, said: "The police started arriving 10 or 15 minutes before it went off.
"I looked out of the window to see what was going on and I was leaning out as the bomb went off. It was like an earthquake. The sheer force of it knocked me back."
Flames shot up into the air, shrapnel and flying glass firing outwards. Panic ensued as people, packed into nearby pubs, ran in error towards the site of the bomb amid the sound of ringing burglar alarms and cascades of water flooding the street from a burst main.
Incredibly, only 11 people were injured, none with life-threatening wounds.
The four who remained in hospital yesterday included Richard Seaman, a 24-year-old bar worker who suffered cracked ribs, his girlfriend Andrea Carragher, 23, who had spinal injuries, a man in his 50s with head injuries and a man in his 20s who had shoulder injuries. The others, including a female police officer, were injured by flying glass.
"It is a miracle no one was killed. You couldn't find a busier area if you tried. If it had been like the previous nights, warm and not raining, it would have been a disaster. These people (the terrorists) knew what they were doing and they wanted to kill," said local councillor Ian Green.
Aware that previous attacks have targeted Shepherd's Bush, Hammersmith and Ealing Broadway itself, he added: "Obviously people are concerned that west London is being targeted. They are probably feeling slightly vulnerable."
Steve Pound, MP for Ealing North and a member of the Northern Ireland select committee, pointed out the area had a large Irish community.
Noting the confusion over the warning, which originally placed the bomb in the non-existent "Ealing Broadway Road", he added: "This has the feel of Omagh. It is most likely it was the Real IRA, it was indiscriminate and completely unthinking viciousness. All the signs are that it was a fertiliser bomb. They want to derail the peace process."
Yesterday, many of the inhabitants of the affluent leafy semi-suburban area stared forlornly past the police cordon towards the shops beyond.
They were not, however, contemplating the enormity of the potentially deadly disaster which had unfolded in their midst, but simply the mundane tasks which would not get done.
One elderly woman needed to get to the optician, another required a tax disc, a couple were due to exchange contracts on their new home. At the town hall, where local businessmen and temporarily homeless residents from within the exclusion zone gathered for hourly updates, a Thai couple emerged into the melee, having just got married.
"I thought we were not going to have any wedding at first but we went ahead with it," said the bride cheerfully.
Jayesh Patel, 41, whose Café Renaissance suffered thousands of pounds of damage, said: "It is a fact of life in London, there is nothing you can do." With little hope of reopening before Monday, Mr Patel estimated he would lose more than £15,000 in business.
While police tried to restore order around the bomb site, beyond the cordon locals had bounced back to normality. At a nearby pub, they celebrated the impending weekend without considering the effects of attempts to derail the Northern Ireland peace process.
They were just enjoying the lunchtime sun and warmth, oblivious to the fact that it was only its brief disappearance which may have saved many from a violent death.Reuse content