Three of Cayman’s top runners were toasting Boston Marathon success when a pair of terrorist bomb blasts near the finish line shattered the carnival atmosphere leaving three people dead and more than 100 others wounded.
Beth Florek, Derek Larner and Tom Gammage were celebrating in bars close to the finish line when news of the tragedy filtered through, leaving the efforts of the athletes fading into insignificance.
The human cost of the blast was still being counted Tuesday. Three people, including an 8-year-old boy, were confirmed killed in the explosions. At least 140 others were said to be injured, some of them critically.
Graphic images of victims who lost limbs were shown in television news footage following the blasts and surgeons reported carrying out several amputations in the hours that followed.
The race, the world’s oldest marathon, was immediately suspended and a no-fly zone declared by the US Federal Aviation Administration over the area as police blamed terrorists for the explosions. The White House referred to the bombings as an “act of terror”, although no terrorist group had claimed responsibility as of press time.
Mr. Gammage said he and Mr. Larner had been enjoying a post-race Guinness in a bar close to the finish line when the blasts hit just before 3pm Boston time. He said he had contacted his wife and Mr. Larner’s girlfriend, who were in a restaurant a block away from the explosion.
“They had felt and heard the blasts,” Mr. Gammage said. “A police officer came in shortly after and told them to stay away from the windows and that they couldn’t leave.”
Mr. Larner said the mood in the bar, which had been joyous as runners compared times and celebrated each others’ success, had quickly turned to disbelief.
“It was one of those moments were everything just stops,” he said. “There was absolute silence. Nobody could really believe that this could happen at an event like a marathon.”
He said he had quickly called around the rest of the Cayman contingent and found that everybody had avoided the blast.
Ms Florek, who had completed the marathon in around three-and-a-half hours, was in a different bar across town when the bomb went off.
She said: “I’m definitely feeling very fortunate right now. As soon as this happened you just forget about everything else. I had friends there who had just run their best ever times but all that celebrating just stops and the magnitude of what has happened takes over.”
The first explosion came about two hours after the winners crossed the line, with thousands of runners still on the course.
The Associated Press said there was a loud explosion on the north side of Boylston Street, just before the bridge that marks the finish line. Another loud explosion could be heard a few seconds later and smoke could be seen rising from the scene of the blasts.
TV helicopter footage showed blood staining the pavement in the shopping and tourist area known as Back Bay, the BBC reported.
The blasts left a dark cloud over what is traditionally a triumphant occasion, with many of the runners raising money for charity or completing a once-in-a-lifetime personal goal.
Mr. Larner said: “We were there complaining about the aches and pains after a 26-mile run and celebrating the achievement, but this just takes away any enjoyment or sense of accomplishment.
“I don’t know if I feel lucky, I was not that close to it. I feel annoyed and sad that something like this could happen.”
Ms Florek, an accountant and five-time straight winner of the Cayman Islands Intertrust Marathon, said the scene in Boston city centre was chaotic.
“When we left the bar there were so many sirens going off, we could see the helicopter flying overhead. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.”
A 15-block area in downtown Boston was sealed off as a crime scene on Monday afternoon. A separate fire was reported at the JFK library in Boston, though it was not clear at press time whether this was connected to the marathon explosions.
In a statement to the nation from the White House on Monday evening, President Obama said: “The American people will say a prayer for Boston tonight.
“We still do not know who did this and why. And people should not jump to conclusions. But make no mistake. We will found out who did this and why they did this. Any responsible group or individuals will feel the full weight of justice.”