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UPDATE - Runner: ‘I looked up and I saw debris flying’

TNS Regional News • Apr 15, 2013 at 10:50 PM

Eric Giandelone had finished the Boston Marathon and was drinking a cup of coffee, watching the other runners cross the finish line, when he heard a loud blast.

“I looked up and I saw debris flying,” said Giandelone, 34, of Chicago.

Runners and spectators were running from the finish line when a second explosion went off about 10 seconds later, this one a little farther from the finish line where everyone had been heading, he said.

“It’s a pretty disturbing thing to see,” Giandelone said. “You feel more for people who are injured or even worse.

“There were people who were missing limbs, yes,” Giandelone said. “I saw more people who were hurt from the second explosion because I had to run by that area.”

Police said two people were killed and at least 90 others were injured by two bombs that went off near the finish of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon.

Giandelone said he was about 150 yards from the first explosion and about 50 yards from the second.

Giandelone has been renting an apartment not far from the marathon, so as panicked people took shelter in nearby bars, restaurants and shops, he moved to the middle of the road and ran back to the apartment. He immediately called his family, noting that his father was in New Jersey during the 9/11 attack.

He said he remembered how hard it’d been to reach him. “I tried to make calls immediately, because you never know,” Giandelone said.

Diane Montiel, 63, from Chicago, recounted the frantic moments searching for her daughter after the explosions.

“As the marathon was coming through, you have the grandstands and I was in there,” she said. “As I was sitting there, I was using my camera. My daughter had crossed and I was waiting for her friends to come by. We heard an explosion. We thought, ‘Oh, what’s that.’ Then there was a second. That second explosion was stronger.

“There were police standing there. It’s a VIP section. It’s a close viewing, and where the media and all are. They yelled for us all to get down. Within a few seconds, the smoke started to clear. The people who had been there were no longer there. People were screaming. I saw some runners go down also. The police started screaming, ‘Get out! Get out of the bleachers! We had no clue if more explosions were coming.

“They told us all to get into the library building, which was nearby,” she continued. “They told us to just get running, to get out of there.  You knew, after the first noise, that something was terribly wrong. But the second one confirmed it. The first explosion was so loud, it was something I’d never heard before.

“The smoke was coming from a group of people,” Montiel said. “But when the second explosion went off, we knew. We were very fearful being so close. At that point all I really cared about was finding my daughter. It was so sad because there were many people there with kids. People were trying to grab their kids. There was a lot of smoke so you couldn’t see.

“The police were terrific. They were shepherding us out of there but the instructions changed. From ‘Get down’ to ‘Get out.’ When they said get out, it really scared me. That’s when I knew we were really in danger.

“People were helping each other, but people just started running. We ran to the library and then we knew even there was a dangerous place to be.

“I was looking for my daughter,” Montiel said. “But the ambulances had already started rolling in. There were doctors and nurses and medical tents already here.”

Montiel said she couldn’t find out about her daughter. “It was scary. I knew she had crossed the finish line, but I didn’t know how these explosions were going. I was frantic to get to her. I tried to call her and got voicemail. ‘Where are you? Where are you? It was hard to get a connection. Finally someone told us Katie is OK. She had finished and gone back to the hotel. I didn’t know for 40 minutes.

“Moments like that, you want to find your people. Even in the midst of the greater problem you just want to find your people. There were so many families and it was sad to see. There were kids crying,” she said.

“I kept saying. Oh my God! Oh my God. I had never experienced anything like that before. But you just go, you run and keep going. You become focused on getting out. I was shaking and then I started crying. We didn’t know if that was the end or if that is just the beginning. Boston is a small city and we were all packed in. I was very afraid.”

Montiel’s daughter, Katie Montiel Vidaillet, 31, of Chicago, said she was in her hotel room when the blasts went off.

“I was up high on the 29th floor, it sounded like a firework or a plane going overhead. It sounded like a big bang and I could hear it on the 29th floor. I looked out my hotel room,” she said. “I got in the shower. When I got out, I was getting all kinds of messages from friends.

“People were asking if I was OK,” she said. “I turned on the news. My parents were in the grandstands and cellphone service wasn’t working. I was calling them and it was going to voicemail, so it was scary. But honestly I didn’t know what it was. Everyone assumed it was a terrorist attack.

“As a runner, this makes me really mad,” she said. “Taking the emotions out, people work so hard to get to Boston, they train for months, the course is difficult and you are giving it everything you have to get across the finish line. It’s just so sad and it makes me really angry.”

Beth Wolniewicz, 46, of Chicago finished the marathon three minutes before the first explosion. She said she was standing near the finish line with some people she knew who also ran the marathon went she heard the first blast.

At first, Wolniewicz thought the explosion was part of scheduled re-enactment of Paul Revere’s ride. After the second explosion, she saw people start to rush away. So she hurried back to her hotel.

“If it was closer, I think it would have been — the casualties would have been increased 1,000 percent,” she said.

On the phone, Wolniewicz said she was taking a water ferry on her way to the airport, because trains weren’t running and taxis were impossible to grab. She wanted to get an earlier flight home — her worried mother wanted her to as well.

Wolniewicz’s mother expressed gratitude that her daughter, who finished the race so close to the time of the explosion, wasn’t hurt. “Oh gosh, it was so scary,” said Elaine Wolniewicz, of Crystal Lake, Ill. “I’m so glad she’s OK.”

Richard Hill, 54, of Geneva, Ill., said he crossed the finish line about an hour before the explosions and loaded a bus about a half-hour later for runners who completed the race. “So I was on a bus by the time the explosions occurred,” he said.

When Hill arrived at his brother’s home in the Boston area, where he was staying, he said he was “bombarded” with texts from friends checking on him.

Hill said he was grateful for a last-minute decision by his eight relatives to watch the race to near the halfway point, instead of the finish line.

Hill, a member of the St. Charles-based Multisport Madness Triathlon Club, said several of his teammates were also running the race and received word that everyone was OK.


By Ellen Jean Hirst, Kate N. Thayer, Lolly Bowean, Gregory Pratt, Ashley Rueff, Michelle Manchier, Michael Holtz and Andy Grimm - Chicago Tribune (MCT)

©2013 Chicago Tribune

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