Terror's Venue


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As people flooded out of the park toward Peachtree Street, a stream of ambulances sped in to carry the wounded to local hospitals. The evacuation was swift and efficient. But even at four in the morning the streets were still populated; authorities had thrown up a non-negotiable security barricade around the park, stranding many people who could not get back to their hotels. Resigned to living through a strange night, many just curled up to sleep on the sidewalks as helicopters whirred overhead. Khaki-clad soldiers marched in formation into the Main Press Center, while men in FBI jackets poked about the crash site. "I figured this would be something I could tell my grandchildren about," said Robert Gee, a graduate student at Arizona State University whose amateur video of the explosion was broadcast on CNN. "Unfortunately, it turned out to be something I could tell my grandchildren about."

At a makeshift waiting center set up in the auditorium of Grady Memorial Hospital, a mile from the park, shaken relatives and friends of victims gathered in search of information about their loved ones. From time to time, a Red Cross nurse would appear and read out names written in blue ballpoint pen on her rubber gloves. Much of her news was reasonably good: most patients had only minor injuries. Meanwhile, those waiting traded stories about the night. "It didn't seem like a real bomb to me," said John, a young British man who was crying as he waited for news of an injured friend. "It could have been a generator or something. It's not like the kind of bombs we have in London."

Although it was almost unimaginable that Atlanta would turn out to be like London--or Munich, for that matter--authorities thought they had done all they could to ensure that these would be the safest Olympic games in history. Even before the explosion of TWA Flight 800, the White House was acutely aware that the Games were a big, inviting terrorist target, and Vice President Al Gore personally reviewed all the security arrangements for Atlanta. Indeed, the bombing on Saturday occurred in the midst of what amounts to an armed camp--with 30,000 law-enforcement officers deployed to protect 10,000 athletes and 2 million fans. In addition, 11,000 National Guard and active-duty military personnel are on Olympics duty, including more than 500 Delta Force and SEAL-Team 6 commandos, airmen from the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and specially trained U.S. Army Rangers to be part of a backup force in case local police or the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team need help. Most of the 500 commandos are on alert at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but a small contingent, armed with hidden weapons, have been patrolling Olympic sites in civilian garb, on the lookout for anything suspicious. In addition, the Army has bomb-dismantling experts and specialists trained to deal with chemical or biological weapons at the ready in Atlanta, along with more than a dozen scientists from the Nuclear Emergency Search Team to deal with atomic terror. Metal-detection equipment is set up outside all venues, and a sophisticated security system matches live handprints to a chip on your ID badge. The Olympic Village is a virtual fortress: on city streets, manhole covers have been welded down to prevent anyone from getting access to power lines.

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