A couple of blocks from Tavistock Square, where the double-decker bus was bombed a couple of hours before, I came across a small crowd gathered around a white truck. From a distance, it looked like another catastrophe, but as I approached I realized the bystanders were listening to the radio through the truck's open window. Tony Blair was speaking. I was too far away to hear it well, and I could only make out a few words. I heard "barbaric." I also heard "civilization."
London is never quiet, but the blocks around Tavistock Square were spookily silent, except for the ambulances, which wailed by every minute or so. The cops shooed everyone away from the bus itself—it's out of sight, but TV images show it turned practically inside-out from the force of the explosion—so, knots of people gathered on the sidewalk, talking in low voices—the white-coated doctors from the nearby neurology institute, the Italian tourists.
I eavesdropped on some conversations—all variations of the same bits of half-knowledge and rumor:
"I heard there were six explosions."
"There was one bus explosion, and six on the tube."
"There were five bombs on the tube, and three on buses."
"There were 10 bombs."
There were two witnesses outside Dean's Brasserie, and journalists mobbed them. One, a teenage girl, sobbed so hard that she couldn't speak. The other, a young Italian scientist named Lorenzo Pia, described how he and his neighbors brought sheets out to the street to wrap the wounded from the bus. He said he saw lots of bodies.
I was arriving at a BBC radio studio at around 9:30 a.m. when the first news came in—a train derailment or an electrical problem. I was supposed to be a guest on a morning talk show, and the producer who greeted me asked me to wait a few minutes while they sorted out what was happening: It was probably a transformer problem, he said. A couple of minutes later, the newsroom erupted in a frenzy. Reports began flooding in—the entire London Underground was shut down. An explosion at Aldgate tube station. Another one at Paddington. Then the reports of the bus bombing. A few injuries. Thirty injuries. Two dead, then 20 dead.
This has been an extraordinary 24 hours for London. Yesterday afternoon, the International Olympic Committee awarded London the 2012 Summer Games. I was in Trafalgar Square when the announcement came, and the place went crazy. There was shouting and hugging and dancing. It seemed somehow bizarre. It seemed very ... un-English.