BOSTON — About 26.19 miles into the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon, explosions shook the street and sent runners frantically racing for cover. The marathon finish line, normally a place of celebration and exhaustion, was suddenly like a war zone.
Medical workers aided the wounded at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
“These runners just finished and they don’t have legs now,” said Roupen Bastajian, 35, a Rhode Island state trooper and a former Marine.
“So many of them. There are so many people without legs. It’s all blood. There’s blood everywhere. You got bones, fragments. It’s disgusting.”
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Had Bastajian run a few strides slower, as he did in 2011, he might have been among the dozens of victims injured in Monday’s bomb blasts. Instead, he was among the runners treating other runners, a makeshift emergency medical service of exhausted athletes.
“We put tourniquets on,” Bastajian said. “I tied at least five, six legs with tourniquets.”
The timing of the explosions — just over four hours from the official start — was especially devastating because they happened when a high concentration of runners in the main field were arriving at the finish line.
In last year’s race, for example, more than 9,100 crossed the finish line — 42 percent of all finishers — in the 30 minutes before and after the time of the explosions.
Deirdre Hatfield, 27, was steps away from the finish when she heard a blast. She saw bodies flying out into the street. She saw a couple of children who appeared lifeless. She saw people without legs.
“When the bodies landed around me, I thought, Am I burning? Maybe I’m burning and I don’t feel it,” she said. “If I blow up, I just hope I won’t feel it.”
She looked inside the Starbucks to her left, which seemed to be where the blast occurred. “What was so eerie, you looked in, you knew there had to be 100 people in there, but there was no sign of movement,” she said.
Hatfield quickly realized the blasts were part of some sort of attack. She began trying to think where the next explosion might occur.
Finally, she turned down a side street and ran to the hotel where she agreed to meet her boyfriend and family after the race.
Amid the chaos, the authorities directed runners and onlookers to the area designated for family members awaiting loved ones at the end of the race. It was traditionally a place of panting pride, sweaty hugs and exhausted relief.
But Monday it transformed into a place of dread, as news of the attack spread through the crowd and people awaited word.
Some people saw the explosions as clouds of white smoke. To others, they looked orange — a fireball that nearly reached the top of a nearby traffic light.
Groups of runners, including a row of women in pink and neon tank tops and a man in a red windbreaker — kept going a few paces at least, as if unsure of what they were seeing.
Some runners stopped in the street, confused and frightened. Others turned around and started running back the way they came — only faster this time.
“It is kind of ironic that you just finished running a marathon and you want to keep running away,” said Sarah Joyce, 21, who had just finished her first marathon when she heard the blast.