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The Painful Memories Of Those Who Survived London's 2005 Terror Attacks

The wreck of a double-decker bus in central London on July 8, 2005, one day after a series of terrorist attacks on public transportation killed more than 50 people and injured more than 700.
The wreck of a double-decker bus in central London on July 8, 2005, one day after a series of terrorist attacks on public transportation killed more than 50 people and injured more than 700.

On July 7, 2005, four suicide bombers targeted London's transport network at the height of morning rush hour. Backpack bombs were detonated on three underground trains and a bus. Fifty-two people were killed and more than 700 were injured.

Ten years on, NPR spoke with emergency workers, survivors and people who lost loved ones that day.

The first bomb was detonated at the Aldgate underground station, and Paul Osborne, a firefighter with the London Fire Brigade, was sent to the scene. En route, there was nothing to suggest anything serious had happened.

"I just remember turning the corner and just seeing this sea of people starting to leave the underground station, and thinking it was almost like some of our drills, some of our training scenarios that we undertake where we have members of the public dress up for us and show the signs and symptoms of people that have experienced some significant trauma. This is exactly what it looked like. It looked like a training scenario. Clearly it wasn't, and that quickly became apparent."

London firefighter Paul Osborne with his service dog, Sherlock.
Rich Preston / NPR
London firefighter Paul Osborne with his service dog, Sherlock.

Alex King, 52, works for the London Underground. On the day of the attacks, he was based at Edgware Road, the scene of one explosion.

"There were various mayday calls that came on our radio. Normally we get the odd one here or there. But a whole load of them all at once, which made me and my colleague realize that something very serious had gone on.

"It was just a complete scene of destruction and mayhem. The driver of the train affected where the bomb actually went off explained straight away that someone had blown themselves up on the train."

Julie Nicholson's daughter Jenny was one of those killed at Edgware Road.

"It was the first sunny day of the week and we were planning to go out and have a picnic and a walk and planned to do nice holiday, relaxing things. We were having a late breakfast when my younger daughter telephoned from Bristol, from home, saying she was terribly worried because she couldn't get hold of her sister, Jenny. And I didn't know why she would need to get hold of her sister at that point, and so my daughter Lizzie said, 'But haven't you listened to the news? Don't you have the television on? Don't you know what's going on in London?'

"Her route would normally have taken her in a different direction to work, but there was a problem somewhere else on the underground that morning and caused her to re-route and come through this station, and she boarded the train that was the fatal train for her."

John Falding's partner, Anat Rosenberg, was killed that morning when one of the bombers blew himself up on a double-decker bus.

"For some reason, this morning, she seemed a bit disconcerted. And she just said, 'Hold me.' And so we lay on the bed and just cuddled, and I held her for a quarter of an hour. That quarter of an hour, that quarter of an hour, that cuddle, really killed her. Because she left at 9 o'clock instead of a quarter to 9. If she'd left at the usual time, she would've missed the bomb.

"Anat phoned me on her cellphone and said, 'Oh, there's chaos here, I don't know what's happening.' So I gave her some impression of what was happening and she kept in touch as she tried to make her way through. And so again, fatefully, I said to her, 'Well, look, be smart, beat the crowd, walk to the bus stop earlier, the bus stop before.'

"She phoned me and said, 'That worked — I've got a bus, and I've got a seat.' I said, 'Is it crowded?' And she said, 'Yes, but I'm near the door so I should be all right.' And she said to me, 'Whatever's happening will be an item for your newsletter.' 'Newsletter' was the last word she spoke. As soon as she said 'newsletter,' I heard horrendous screams in the background, nothing from Anat, no scream or cry or gasp — just nothing."

Dr. Peter Holden is a family physician, and on the day of the attacks, he was working at the headquarters of the British Medical Association, right next to where the bus bomb was detonated.

"Just as the bomb blew, everything went salmon pink — then we heard the bang. And that, in fact, was the pressure wave hitting us — everything going salmon pink, it just distorts your eyeballs very fractionally. And then we heard the bang, commotion in the outer office. You could see through the window a cloud of white smoke, things like bits of paper and leaves coming down.

"When I got downstairs I was confronted by my colleagues bringing victims in, using tabletops as stretchers, and cutting up the state room curtains to act as bandages, because this is an office building, it's nothing clinical. And one of my colleagues turned to me, who knew me well and knew what I did, other than being a family physician, and said, 'Peter, this is your scene, tell us what to do.'

"The hardest bit is walking past where I declared Priority 4 on two patients, and I walk past that spot twice a day, two days a week, and have done for the last 10 years. Priority 4 is where you've got somebody so seriously injured, they're usually unconscious, they're usually extremely maimed, and they are not going anywhere but they are still alive. You put a human being with them. Because under those circumstances, it immediately becomes, 'do the most for the most,' because if you get stuck on the most injured, you'll start losing others who could benefit, because you haven't got enough resources to deal with everybody. And that was hard."

Dr. Peter Holden, next to the plaque for victims of the bus bomb outside the headquarters for the British Medical Association, in London.
Rich Preston / NPR
Dr. Peter Holden, next to the plaque for victims of the bus bomb outside the headquarters for the British Medical Association, in London.

Jacqui Putnam was on the underground train at Edgware Road.

"I know I'm not the same person, but I couldn't tell you how or why. I suppose I'm a bit more serious. My friends have said I used to be funnier, and I'm not so spontaneously funny now. But I have said before, and this is so true, that the woman who stepped on the train at King's Cross is not the same woman who climbed out of the wreckage at Edgware Road.

"I was one of the last to leave the carriage. The men in the carriage had made sure the women got off first, so I was one of the last ladies to leave, and we stopped and looked around to see if there was anybody that needed to be helped, and there weren't. Ray was the person I saw who put his hands up and helped me down. It was his voice that said, 'The door's open.' And I felt hope for the first time because I knew I could get out, and maybe I wasn't going to die.

"When I was interviewed by the police, they brought with them an evidence bag and they said, would I put my clothes into it and they would collect it if they needed to? So I did. And they didn't collect it, and I put it in the loft. Last week, I took it down and I looked at the clothes, and felt them, and smelled them, and the smell had faded, and they didn't have this power over me that they once did. And I was able to throw them away. So last week, they were taken away by the [garbage men]. And I felt as if a burden had lifted. It's taken 10 years. It was a good feeling. I'm never going to be all the way there, I imagine. But that was pretty good."

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