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London looks for normality six months after bombs

Reuters | January 7, 2006
By Michael Holden

LONDON - The first thing Gary Stevens saw after a 650-metre walk down a dark, smoke-filled tunnel was a young man leaning against the wreckage of an underground train with his left leg missing.

But even that shocking sight was nothing compared to the carnage that greeted the duty station manager inside the carriages blown apart by a suicide bomber last July 7.

"I didn't realise until then it was a bomb. He was hysterical saying 'we're all going to die, we're all going to die,'" Stevens, 42, told Reuters.

"There were a few fatalities, some very, very seriously injured people missing limbs and severely traumatised people as well."

The emergency services took 40 minutes to reach the scene deep underground at Russell Square station and Stevens, who had to step over corpses to reach the wounded, spent the next three hours helping those who had been hurt.

He was one of the many unsung heroes who helped the dazed and injured caught up in the four blasts -- the first ever suicide attacks in western Europe.

The bombings by four young British Islamists on three underground trains and a double-decker bus in central London during the morning rush hour killed 52 people and wounded more than 700 others.

It left Britons shocked and afraid, and that fear was exacerbated two weeks later when a similar plot to attack three trains and a bus only failed because detectives said the suspected bombers' devices didn't go off.

THREAT STILL THERE

The threat is still there. London's police chief Sir Ian Blair said last month the security services had foiled three credible plots since July and warned that groups were planning further attacks.

But six months on, most people say life on the streets of the capital has returned to normality.

"I think the only way to prove to these people who carried out this terrible atrocity that they haven't succeeded is for life to carry on and we'll go about it in a normal way," Stevens said.

Travellers at the King's Cross mainline station, where the July 7 bombers separated shortly before carrying out their attacks nearby, were also philosophical about the threat.

"In the early months, we were aware of being in closed spaces, of people around you and what they were carrying. There was a certain amount of irrational fear," said project manager Des Crawford, 50.

He added the second failed attacks had really put the public on edge but people had got over that fear now.

"You suddenly realised that it's going to be an ongoing thing and you adjust to that at some level.

"You can't live your life constantly feeling you are at some great danger or risk," he said

WRONG TRAIN OR WRONG BUS

"I was nervous the first couple of weeks," said private investigator Joseph Furneaux-Gotch, 51, adding that security measures also appeared to have eased.

"I worked in Northern Ireland and I'm a bit of a fatalist. If you are on the wrong train or the wrong bus at the wrong time, there's not much you can do."

In the aftermath of the bombings, the sound of wailing sirens from the emergency services would provoke anxious glances from passers-by fearful of another attack.

But on a cold, grey January morning, barely anyone paid the slightest attention to the sound of police cars and fire engines racing past King's Cross.

"I think people have got on with it. It's back to how it was before the bombings, a London Underground inspector, who did not wish to give his name, told Reuters.

He said people were no longer obviously suspicious of their fellow travellers.

"The closed-off mentality that people don't notice anything is back."

Michael Reddy, founder of the Independent Counselling and Advisory Service (Icas) which provides psychological help to trauma victims worldwide, said it was usual for populations hit by terrorism to get on with their lives.

But they wouldn't forget what had happened.

"I would have thought that there will be a handful of people who will still be affected," he said.

"Many, many people will still have an emotional connection when they are close to some place that has a memory for them, or when they get on a train or even when they notice a stray packet or a strange-looking guy with a rucksack.

"There will be reminders that will still trigger a small reaction. It's not as though people have just 'forgotten.'"

Gary Stevens agrees.

"The seventh of July unfortunately will stay with me until I go to my grave," he said. "It's a day I'm never going to forget."

 


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