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Union Leader running columnist says surreal scene will haunt him

Special to The New Hampshire Union Leader

April 15. 2013 10:52PM
An emergency medical worker wheels an injured woman toward an ambulance near Copley Square in Boston after Monday's bombings at the Boston Marathon. (ANDY SCHACHAT)

Editor's note: Union Leader sports columnist Andy Schachat was at the Boston Marathon finish line when the explosions occurred.

It started with a loud noise and a large puff of white smoke at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in front of the Boston Public Library. My initial reaction was an electric transformer must have exploded.

I even chuckled and thought: "What are they going to do for power now?"

Seconds later came another loud noise, and another large puff of smoke about 200 yards in front of the finish line. I realized the explosions were not transformers; these were bombs.

People were running everywhere, most of them away from the finish line toward Copley Square. As I got closer to the finish line I kept thinking, "This is the Boston Marathon. It is supposed to be a great day and a festive day ... and now this."

As a reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader, my job is to talk to the top New Hampshire male and female finishers. But now I was in uncharted territory. I had not signed up for this.

Chaos. Police and race volunteers screamed for everyone to get away from the finish line.

I noticed emergency personnel heading toward the injured. I shot as many photos as I could with my cell phone. My efforts left me with mixed feelings. I got photos, but I was shocked at what I witnessed.

Never before had I seen injured people like this. I was fairly certain I saw someone who had lost a leg, something a friend of mine confirmed a few minutes later. In the next few hours, I learned that two people had died and countless others were badly hurt. It seemed surreal, like a scene from a movie.

"This is the Boston Marathon," I kept saying to myself. "This is unbelievable."

In the next 10 to 15 minutes, I saw medical personnel treating the injured as quickly as possible, getting the wounded into the medical tent behind the finish line. Volunteers and police were trying to secure the area to get police and medical vehicles in.

At one point a volunteer yelled out for everyone to shut off their phones because the phones were jamming the signals needed for the emergency staff.

Spectators scattered everywhere, not knowing where to go. Many appeared frightened because they couldn't find a runner, a friend or family member. Media and spectators kept getting pushed farther away from the finish line and Copley Square.

The media center, at the Fairmont Copley Square Hotel, was placed on lockdown.

A lasting memory for the next 30 minutes to an hour ... the sounds of sirens as ambulances and other emergency vehicles arrived on the scene or departed for local hospitals.

For most of the next few hours I was able to keep fairly calm. However, when I saw some friendly faces, that was when I came close to losing it.

I hugged everyone I could, from fellow reporters to Olympian Joan Benoit Samuelson.

In the hours that followed, I kept asking myself and others where the sport will go now. How do major races like the Boston Marathon plan for the future? No one knew the answer.

The Boston Marathon is usually the greatest day of the year for the New England road race scene. The 2013 Marathon will be remembered as one of the worst days of our lives.

New Hampshire Sports

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