Blazers reflect on their time in London during this summer's terrorist tube bombings
It was Blair graduate Danielle Prados's broken alarm clock that saved her life. Had it rung as planned on the morning of July 7, she might have become a statistic, another casualty of the summer's London subway attacks.
Instead, she overslept. "My alarm clock didn't go off. Otherwise, I would've been in the tube station," says Prados, who was in London studying with a group from New York University.
That morning, three suicide bombings on the London subway and one on a double-decker bus killed 52 people and injured at least 700 more. Besides Prados, at least four Blair students were in or near London when the terrorists struck. Although their time in a country under siege revived memories of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., witnessing the British response to terrorism left the five students with a newfound respect for the people of London.
At 8:50 a.m., Prados had been sleeping in her dorm around the corner from Russell Square when the first of what would be four deadly bombs exploded with enough force to shake the building in which she slept.
At first, Prados didn't know what had happened. One of her roommates returned to the apartment to say that she had tried to enter the Russell Square tube
station but was met with a stampede of panicked commuters fleeing the station. "We thought it was one of those London transportation issues," explains Prados, a 2003 Blair graduate, in a telephone interview from London. "London transportation is famous for its breakdowns."
Half an hour later, Prados ventured outside and realized what had happened. Before her in Russell Square, ambulances, police cars and other rescue vehicles attended to the victims of the day's first bombing.
The other Blair travelers had a less intimate view of the attacks. Senior Clare Marshall was in summer school at the British American Drama Academy in London when the bombs detonated. The dean of the academy called for an all-school meeting to break the news to the students and told them, "London is under siege." Marshall was shocked and saddened by the tragic news. "I couldn't believe it," she says. "It was the last thing I was expecting to hear."
Meanwhile, news of the attacks was spreading across the country like wildfire. At the time of the bombings, sophomore Julia Mazerov and her family were driving out of London. After passing an electric sign along the highway that read, "Turn the radio on," they tuned their car radio to the news and were immediately transfixed by the unfolding story. "[Coverage of the attacks] was on every single station," she remembers. "We were on a five-hour drive, and we listened the whole way."
At first, they were told only that there had been an explosion on the London Underground. When the news broke that terrorists were responsible for the blast, Mazerov realized how lucky she and her family had been. "We were supposed to take the tube that morning, but we changed our plans," she says.
Miles away in Cheltenham, a borough in central England, senior Amelyne Major and her family went into a pharmacy and were told by a clerk that there had been at least one bombing in London. At first, "we had no idea how huge it was," remembers Major. Still, she was afraid that more terrorist attacks were planned throughout England.
For Major, the bombings brought back the fear and uncertainty she had felt during the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. "It was just, like, 'Oh God, now this is happening here,'" she says.
For these Americans in London, witnessing the London bombings revived unpleasant memories of the Sept. 11 attacks. When he heard the news of the London bombings, junior Nick Wolf couldn't help but compare them to Sept. 11. Safe inside the thick ramparts of the Tower of London at the time, the bombings "didn't leave a fear, a nervousness," he remembers. "The whole shock of Sept. 11 wasn't there."
Mazerov agrees that being in the U.S. on Sept. 11 affected her more than being in England during the bombings. Although she admits the news of the London bombings was unexpected and troubling, Mazerov feels the experience left her emotionally and mentally unchanged in the long run. "I don't want to say... I was used to it because of 9/11, but it really didn't affect me," she says.
Remembering how she felt when her own country was under attack, Major sympathized with Londoners. "I felt it was bad enough for the U.S. to have to deal with [terrorism], and it was horrible that England had to deal with it now," she says.
While terrorism may be new to Americans, Londoners have had decades of experience with it. Prados notes that, while Londoners were shaken by the July attacks, "they're more hardened to these types of situations because of the IRA," referring to the Irish Republican Army, a terrorist group infamous for bombing British pubs, tube stations and other civilian targets. The British "had dealt with bombings before. This wasn't new," explains Prados.
Grace under fire
During the early years of World War II, London was barraged almost nightly by Nazi bombers in what became known as the London Blitz, after "blitzkrieg," the German word for "lightning war." Although hundreds of people lost their lives in these attacks and thousands more were forced to seek shelter each night in tube stations, Londoners tried to live their lives as usual. Ever since, they have had a reputation for being able to sweep up the rubble and move on with their lives after any disaster. The Blair students who were in London during the tube bombings witnessed this quality firsthand.
Wolf, for example, wasn't worried when he heard the news of the attacks. "I honestly trusted the British police and what was going on. I felt safe," he says. Likewise, Major commends the Londoners for their determination and strength. "The British people were really supportive of each other and knew they had to keep going," she says. "If they didn't, the bombers would win."
Despite the terrorist attacks, Major's view on London has stayed the same, and she wouldn't hesitate to go back. "I didn't feel like this was any reason for me to stay away," says Major.
Prados, who has not been back to the U.S. since the attacks, agrees. If anything, watching the Londoners manage the attacks has improved her impression of the city. In the aftermath of the bombings, she notes that Londoners were helpful to one another, composed about the situation and considerate of those injured or affected by the bombings. "It gave me a little more confidence in the future of humanity," says Prados.
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