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The World

In an Instant, Carnage on Bus No. 14

The rush-hour blast in a busy Jerusalem street sets in motion a familiar scramble to aid victims.

June 12, 2003|Solomon Moore | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — Bus No. 14 was nearly full when Wednesday's blast pitched the roof into an A-frame in the rear and curled it off at the front. The bomb's concussive thump resounded through this stone city, alerting all to the latest suicide attack.

Some of the dead were slumped over seats. Some hung out of windows. A few remained upright, as if they were sleeping until the next stop. Around the bus, the petroleum-stained asphalt was littered with severed fingers.

Lucky isn't exactly the word, but Sarri Singer survived -- the couple sitting in front of her did not. She was glad she had sat in the back of the bus.

At the Hadassah Center's trauma unit, Singer's left eye was swollen shut and her left shoulder was bandaged where hot shrapnel had passed through it.

"I didn't see anything, I just felt ... heard ... the blast," said Singer, who came to Israel last year from New Jersey, where her father is the state Senate majority leader. "The bus was really full -- lots of 18- and 19-year-old-looking kids. The blast was very close. My ears are still ringing. They told me to get out, but the people in front of me didn't move."

As is the custom now in Jerusalem, people raced toward the site of the rush-hour blast on busy Jaffa Street, a block from Jerusalem's central marketplace. Within minutes, bystanders and paramedics had pulled the wounded from the charred frame.

Benny Perez described how he heard the explosion as he was giving Hebrew lessons to a woman in her apartment nearby.

"I ran out and saw the bus. I took the door off and I see one man is dead -- but another, a woman, is talking to me, she's alive," said Perez, his face streaked with blood and oil. "Now the bus was on fire and I told the driver to get out of here. I see another girl -- she gave me this bag."

The jeans handbag was shredded and bloodstained. The girl was taken to the hospital, and Perez wondered how she was doing.

Police cordoned off the road with tape. Behind it, Orthodox Jews massed and denigrated Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent peace efforts. "Sharon is a traitor!" they chanted.

Israeli radio announcers blamed the Palestinian militant group Hamas for the bombing and said Sharon was politically adrift. They counted the dead and injured, raising the figures by the hour.

At the site of the attack, dozens of witnesses appeared to be suffering from shock. Some collapsed in the street and in doorways. Others looked on from their apartment windows, dazed and wide-eyed. A young woman crouched near a wall and vomited.

Ambulances began leaving with the injured, around 80 in all, pressing through the agitated throng and fanning out to four trauma centers around the holy city. Coroners arrived shortly thereafter, calmly walking over to the bus with white sheets and body bags.

At the Hadassah Center's emergency room, the refuge of many of Israel's victims of terrorist attacks, family members cried into their hands and sat by loved ones' beds. Volunteers passed out juice and other refreshments.

Eleanor Tubul, 19, leaned back in her bed and described the explosion: "It was like I saw the sound." She had been shopping for her wedding and had just clicked off a cell phone conversation with her fiance when the bus across the street hopped off the ground. The shockwave threw her to the sidewalk.

Violence has become so common in Israel, such events tend to run together -- even for victims. Tubul said that after she fell, her mind flashed back to 1997, when she and 50 other eighth-graders took a field trip to the scenic "Island of Peace" border post between Jordan and Israel.

That day, a Jordanian guard grabbed an automatic rifle and killed seven of Tubul's classmates before her eyes. The killings made headlines around the world, and King Hussein, Jordan's then-monarch, flew to Israel to visit the victims' families.

On Wednesday, no such amends were offered. Even if they had been, Tubul seemed beyond any such overtures as she sat up and glared at a visitor, saying: "My opinion is that we should kill all the Arabs."

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