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February 7, 2004

A deaf woman heard the blast

From: Atlanta Journal Constitution - Atlanta,GA,USA - Feb 7, 2004

Survivors recount horror of subway explosion

Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW -- It is one of the evil wonders of the powerful explosion that rocked a Moscow subway train Friday that it was heard by Marina Shandra, who never heard anything in her life.

Speaking in sign language -- her slim fingers racing and trembling -- the 19-year-old deaf student said the explosion two cars ahead of her plunged the train into a darkened, smoky panic as terrified passengers crawled over the dead and wounded to escape.

"The explosion was so strong that even I could hear it," she said of the vibrations she felt in her ears. "I couldn't breathe because of the smoke. I saw people running. Tears were running down my eyes, and my chest was aching very strongly, but the fire was still burning, so I had to run."

By the time it was over, there were 39 dead and more than 130 injured on the bustling morning commuter train -- packed so full the doors could barely close when a powerful bomb exploded just after 8:30 a.m.

The blast left parts of central Moscow in chaos and gridlock, as the city's entire ambulance fleet battled its way through rush hour traffic to reach the scene of twisted metal and broken glass, deep under the earth.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin blamed the incident on Chechen terrorists, and singled out Aslan Maskhadov , the leader of the separatists who have been fighting for independence in the southern Caucasus republic of Chechnya -- although Maskhadov quickly denied it and condemned the bombing.

"Russia does not talk with terrorists. It liquidates them," Putin said.

In Washington, President Bush condemned the subway attack. "No cause ever justifies the killing of innocent life," the president said in a statement. "The United States stands with Russia in opposing terrorist acts and in our determination to bring the perpetrators to justice."

Police distributed a composite sketch of a suspect, a 40- to 45-year-old man of Caucasian appearance. Some witnesses said they saw two women accompanying him, according to Russian news agencies.

The man reportedly approached the person on duty at the subway station and said: "The party is about to start for you now."

The incident is the latest in at least 10 bombings, all linked to Chechnya, that have plagued Russia since the eve of its second war in the republic in 1999.

Moscow's Metro system, elegantly decorated and efficiently linked to most of the central city, has had extra police on duty for most of the past year, monitoring entrants and occasionally stopping passengers for identification checks. But in a subway system that is the busiest in the world, serving 8.5 million passengers a day, authorities admit there is no guarantee that terrorists will not infiltrate.

"Terror is entering its most horrible phase --explosions in the Metro, something the specialists have talked about and everyone has feared so much," NTV correspondent Vladimir Kondratyev said in his Friday night report. "The Israeli realities keep encroaching on our lives more and more resolutely ... terror is becoming a customary thing, and the authorities are powerless to counter it."

Authorities said there was no conclusive indication whether Friday's attack was a suicide attack or a bomb left on the train in a case. They said it carried the explosive force of 11 pounds of TNT, strong enough, witnesses said, to peel open the metal frame of the train like a can.

Vladimir Gregorian, a 46-year-old computer engineer, was riding in the car in which the explosion occurred.

"I got on the train, and there were so many people there that when the doors closed, I was standing right next to them," he said. A woman was squeezed close behind him, and on the other side, a man with a briefcase, he said.

"It had hardly ridden for 30 seconds when I heard a very loud pop. Something fell on my head, and I lost consciousness," Gregorian said. "When I came to, my hair and my hat were on fire. It was pitch dark. I could hear the screams of people, but I couldn't see anything.

"Then the train stopped in front of the emergency lighting in the tunnel, and I could see that the woman behind me had been blown to bits. The door was bulging like a can that exploded from the inside."

Even at the next metro station, bystanders were thrown off their feet by the shock wave blasting out of the tunnel. "It was a weird sensation. I couldn't hear it with my ears, but my neck got stiff, I felt as though my head was being blown off my shoulders, and I got blown off the stairs," said Irina Domash, who was on her way to work at a local food market.

Rescue workers were greeted with a chilling spectacle. "It looked really horrible. The car was twisted and totally damaged, and there were fragments of bodies scattered all over the place in the tunnel," said Mikhail Plotitsen, spokesman for the emergency situations department.

Alexei V. Kuznetsov in The Times' Moscow Bureau and Times staff writer Maura Reynolds in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution