Kiwi runners at the heart of Boston blast chaos

Last updated 12:11 16/04/2013
Fairfax NZ

Wellingtonian John Plimmer and his wife remain in a Boston hotel after a series of explosions during the marathon.

Laila Harre
CLOSE PROXIMITY: Former MP Laila Harre.
Andrew Wharton
TWO LOUD BANGS: Wellington runner Andrew Wharton was in a hotel room just metres from the explosions.

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A former Christchurch woman had just completed the Boston Marathon when deadly explosions rocked the event.

Elizabeth Hadfield, 38, said she had finished her run and was walking to get water.

"The explosion was literally right behind me ... within seconds there was another one. The sound of it was just piercing. It was just so loud. It was absolutely horrendous.

"I sprinted to the nearest open park. We were worried that if there were two explosions there may be more."

Hadfield said she had crossed the finish line with her New Zealand flag.

"All my family in Christchurch knows that I am safe."

Hadfield left Christchurch in 1998 and now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

It was her 23rd marathon, she said.

The two bombs exploded at the finish line this morning, about 7.15am New Zealand time.

Boston police said two people were killed and 110 others injured. One report said a child, 8, was dead and many victims were critically injured. CNN reported eight children were among those hurt.

Athletics New Zealand confirmed there were 45 Kiwi runners contesting the marathon. There were no reports of Kiwis being injured at this stage.

'IT WAS CHAOS'

Wellington runner Andrew Wharton, who had just finished the race, said he and his wife were in a hotel room about five metres away when the first two bombs went off.

''We heard two loud bangs about three or four seconds apart. I looked out the window and saw people running and realised something had happened.''

''We went up to the roof of our hotel and I could see the aftermath below ... there was a lot of blood, a lot of people lying everywhere, others were crying and didn't know what to do. It was chaos.''

''It's something I never thought I would see and something I never want to see again. It was just horrific.''

He and his wife ran back to their room to find police and hotel staff telling everyone to evacuate immediately.

''If left in my running gear. All we were able to grab was our passports and travel documentation.''

Wharton said his first thought after hearing the bangs was that a bomb had gone off.

''You think 'bomb' because you're in America, and it was right outside the hotel where a lot of people were. There were literally thousands of people out there. As soon I saw them all running, I knew it was a bomb.''

Wharton and his wife were left ''wandering aimlessly'' around the streets of Boston for about an hour before they found a taxi that took them to Woburn, about 15km out of the city, he said. 

'SOMETHING BIG HAD GONE DOWN'

Another Wellington runner John Plimmer had finished the race about an hour before the ''horrifically loud'' explosions went off.

''It definitely wasn't a normal sound. You knew something big had gone down.''

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Staying with his wife in a hotel around the corner, they soon saw smoke drift past their window.

After the explosions there was ''five minutes of nothing, then sirens and everything came to life'', he said.

They had been asked to stay in their hotel room, where they were ''glued to the television'' for updates.

He was not due to fly home till Wednesday, US time, and had been warned security would be going ''through the roof''.

Cellphone coverage in the area had largely been closed down for fears more bombs could be detonated by them, he said.

Former Alliance Party MP Laila Harre was 100 metres from one of the explosions. She told TV3's Firstline she had just crossed the finish line when the explosions occurred.

"I finished the marathon probably five to 10 minutes before the explosion occurred. I was in the finishers area at the time so I heard them and I saw smoke but I wasn't in the immediate area."

Harre said she heard two explosions, the first of which was "extremely loud and deep sounding".

"People looked at each other.....we looked kind of bewildered and unsure about what had happened or what to do.

''There was no sense of panic, no immediate reaction by police or security people in the area. And it was all incredibly calm."

"Now everyone is clearing the central city. I called my husband. He was on a train and he's been evacuated from the train," she told Radio Live.

There was an eerie feeling, with people unsure what had happened.

"This place is amazing and the whole city had turned out to support the runners. I've never seen anything like it," Harre said.

"It's a terrible tragedy if something has happened at the end of this spectacular race."

Brett Addison from Athletics New Zealand said he was trying to get in touch with the 45 New Zealand citizens who ran the marathon. There were no reports of Kiwis being injured at this stage. 

He said he knew of nine runners from Auckland, four from Hamilton, two from Otago, two from Tauranga, and four from Wellington. Twelve were Kiwis living in the US.

"I'm trying to make contact with them to see who's been back in touch with their families in New Zealand," he said.

"A few people have heard back that their husband or wife is ok, others are still waiting to hear."

He said it seemed those injured and killed in the explosions were spectators, not runners.

Richard Bright, a marathon runner from Auckland, said he missed the explosion by 10 minutes.

"I'm flabbergasted," he told TVNZ's Breakfast.

"There could well have been a couple of other Kiwis coming in around that time. I can think of one or two in the age and performance group who would have been passing through.

Phillippa Keast, a Kiwi who moved to Boston from Wellington last week, had been at the marathon but left about 30 minutes before the explosions.

"I was far enough away, luckily, that I didn't see anything. 

"There was a chaos [sic] of ambulances and police cars with traffic stopped in all directions to let them through.

"There are a huge amount of people in the city for the marathon and there was also a Red Sox game on. Very scary."

New Zealand Olympians Nick Willis and Kimberly Smith had run in Boston yesterday with Smith winning an international 5km race and Willis the street mile that is the traditional curtainraiser to the famous marathon.

- Fairfax Media

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