Monday 18 December 2017

Manchester shows human spirit in face of inhuman act

People lay tributes to the victims of the attack on the Manchester Arena in central Manchester. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
People lay tributes to the victims of the attack on the Manchester Arena in central Manchester. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The concert ended on a breathless high, the young clear voices of the crowd lifted in song to 'One Last Time', glowsticks held aloft.

They had come from all over the UK for this most special of events - little girls attending their first concert.

There were teenagers still young enough to need their parents to collect them.

And also fun-loving older people who liked Ariana Grande's brand of carefree bubblegum pop which is a million miles away from the edgy, cool music that has been Manchester's calling card for the last 60 years.

This was the last place anyone might have expected danger to be lurking, in a 21,000 capacity arena at 10.30 pm on a Monday night.

The boom sounded like a couch falling down stairs, a muffled bang loud enough and long enough for two girls watching TV in their apartment across the road from the Manchester Arena to look at one another and ask: "What was that?"

Laura O'Connor from Clarinbridge, Co Galway - who plans to study theatre in London in October - moved to Manchester to study three years ago.

It's a city she enjoys for its diversity and its openness to other cultures. "It's like a bigger Dublin," she explained. "It has the same vibe."

After hearing the bang, she looked out the window but saw nothing because the Arena is at the opposite side of the building.

However soon after, the traffic was 'bumper to bumper', sirens wailing and a helicopter was overhead.

Laura O’Connor: ‘Manchester is like Dublin, but bigger’
Laura O’Connor: ‘Manchester is like Dublin, but bigger’

Social media began to warn of fatalities.

It was at that stage, Laura realised a bomb had gone off.

Ambulance after ambulance streamed to the Manchester Arena as the Greater Manchester Police confirmed they were dealing with "confirmed fatalities".

Caught in the blast were those who were first to exit the concert towards Manchester's Victoria train station.

The first victim to be named was student Georgina Callander.

The 18-year-old "Arianator" was from Lancashire and was studying Health and Social Care.

Her friends described her as the "kindest soul" who would "light up a room".

The youngest, was little Saffie Roussos (8) from Lancashire.

Media reports claim she had been conscious when taken by an ambulance from the Arena and had asked for her mother.

She was described by the headteacher at her school in Preston as a "beautiful little girl in every aspect of the word…quiet and unassuming with a creative flair".

Read More: 'If I don't make it home, I love you,' - teen's text to mum after concert blast

As pandemonium took hold of the city, the extraordinary community spirit of Mancunians came to the fore.

By midnight, the #RoomforManchester was trending on Twitter and Laura O'Connell offered her own spare bedroom to anyone who might be alone, bewildered or seeking loved ones following the horrifying blast.

"I'm 3 Minutes From Victoria Station With A Comfy Sofa, Wifi, Chargers & Teabags. DM Me If You're Nearby & Stranded," she tweeted.

"There were no one in need but it was widely shared, even by TV anchors in the United States," she revealed.

"It just felt like the right thing to do," she said of her offer.

She was not the only one to give help as taxi drivers also came forward to offer lifts to people who had no other form of transport.

In all, 22 people were killed, among them seven children, and 120 injured - with 20 people remaining in "critical care" and suffering from "horrific injuries".

The litany of injuries included major organ damage and potential loss of limbs as a result of a large and sophisticated bomb which had been packed with nuts, bolts and nails designed to inflict maximum damage on as many people as possible. A surgeon working on the victims confirmed he treated injuries similar to those he has operated on during his time as a volunteer in Syria. As the city of Manchester awoke to the news of the worst terror attack since the London bombings of 2005, it was swept with a sense of loss and mourning. Two shrines sprang up, at Albert Square, its heart and at the smaller St Ann's square, constantly replenished with fresh flowers laid upon the old.

Amongst the heartbreaking tributes left were teddy bears, balloons, dolls and picture books.

Even young men in their late teens and twenties came unashamedly with flowers in their arms to lay at this makeshift focal point for people's grief. People just stood in silent reflection, tears rolling down their faces as the realisation of what had occurred slowly began to sink in.

Ambulance worker Paddy Ennis, a third generation Irish man, was caught up in the horror and came to lay a sheaf of white roses at St Ann's square. "It's just nice to be able to pay our respects and to see this outpouring of emotion," he said.

"It was a very, very difficult night for all the emergency services of Manchester," he said.

Tuesday night saw an estimated 25,000 people stand at Albert Square in silence in a moving vigil of solidarity and strength.

A minute's silence on Thursday attended by around 10,000 people again saw Manchester standing as one, the famous spirit very much on show.

The 10K run will continue as planned tomorrow in a show of spirited defiance.

Meanwhile amid the continuing 'critical' level of threat, the net continues to tighten around the network of suspected Libyan terrorists who aided and abetted suicide bomber Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old college drop-out who told his parents he was going to Mecca on pilgrimage.

"What is 22?" questioned Imam Muhammad Khurshid of the Darul Amaan Mosque in Manchester. "You are only starting off in life. You know nothing." He claimed that many of those who carry out suicide bombings are high on steroids and therefore "act like robots".

"In Islam we say that if you take the life of one person it is like you kill the whole of mankind," he said.

"Anyone who does this is not a true Muslim."

Irish Independent

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