BOSTON — With thousands of runners still on the course, two bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, killing two people, injuring scores more and turning the city’s most celebrated event into a grisly spectacle of shattered glass, blood and screams.
Video from the scene showed people fleeing and an enormous cloud of white smoke after two blasts went off about 20 seconds apart. Emergency personnel carried bloody spectators away.
“We saw two big puffs. I thought maybe it was fireworks. Then it went off again. And then all of a sudden we heard people crying and running away,” said Serghino Rene, who was a few blocks away. “It was a huge horde of people just running away.”
Steve Silva, a photographer for The Boston Globe, described “injuries nothing short of horrific”. Jackie Bruno, a reporter for New England Cable News, said on Twitter that she saw people’s legs blown off.
Federal officials told NBC News that Boston police were guarding a “possible suspect” who had been wounded in the blasts, but they cautioned that there was no information at the federal level to consider that person a suspect.
A third, undetonated device was found near the finish line, a House Homeland Security Committee official and three law enforcement officials told NBC News. Authorities also reported an explosion at the John F. Kennedy presidential library, elsewhere in the city, more than an hour after the blasts, but police said that it appeared to be caused by a fire. The police commissioner urged people in Boston to stay inside.
At the marathon, police said at least 23 people had been injured, but the count from hospitals was much higher. Boston Medical Centre said it was treating 20 patients, including two children. Massachusetts General Hospital had 22 patients, Tufts Medical Centre nine and Brigham and Women’s Hospital as many as 20.
Dr. Alisdair Conn, chief of emergency medicine at Mass General, characterised the blasts as a military-style bombing.
“This is like a bomb explosion we hear about in the news in Baghdad or Israel,” he told reporters.
President Barack Obama address the nation just after 6:10 p.m.
Governor Deval Patrick characterised it as an attack, but there were no details about who might be responsible. Race organisers, in a post on Twitter, said: “There were two bombs that exploded near the finish line in today’s Boston Marathon. We are working with law enforcement to determine exactly what happened.”
The Obama administration was in touch with state and local authorities, a White House official told NBC News. Obama directed the administration to provide whatever help was necessary, the official said.
Suspicious packages were found after the blasts at three Boston subway stops, and authorities were investigating. New York police deployed extra security to landmarks, Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed to foot traffic, and the Pentagon tightened security. San Francisco put its police on heightened alert.
Federal authorities briefly grounded flights at the Boston airport as a precaution.
The race is a signature event in Boston and has been run since 1897 on Patriots Day, the third Monday in April. Tens of thousands of spectators turn out each year to watch.
Race organizers said that almost 27,000 runners competed, representing 96 countries. The winners were Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia for the men and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya for the women. A special marker at the 26th mile of the course, yards from the finish, had been set up to honour the 26 dead in the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting last December.
The race began at 10 a.m., and the explosions were reported just before 3 p.m. The winners had long ago completed the race — Desisa finished with a time of just over two hours, 10 minutes — but the explosions came as masses of other runners were approaching the finish. (NBC)