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The Vacuum Issue 8 spacer Issue 8
Blowing Up Belfast
by Steve Fox
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There was never any doubt that it was an atomic bomb. The initial report of Official Enquiry concluded that it had been left on the top floor of the civic centre car park, probably in a van although no one ever claimed responsibility for the worst terrorist atrocity in history. The experts thought it exploded with the force of between 10,000 and 15,000 tons of TNT.
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The bomb exploded at 9.25 that Wednesday morning. The first anyone knew about it was a tremendous flash of light lasting several seconds which blinded anyone looking at it. But the flash also contained a searing wall of heat at thousands of degrees centigrade. It melted the concrete of the car park and set fire to anything in its path up to half a mile from what the Enquiry called "ground zero" - buildings, cars, trees, people were all incinerated. Spontaneous fires were started over one and a half miles away. Anyone in direct line even 2 miles away received serious burns.
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Rumbling out from the explosion and moving at the speed of sound came the roar of the blast which was heard as far away as Dublin and Glasgow. The high rise buildings absorbed most of it but the whole of the city centre simply disappeared - shops, department stores, offices, the city hall, the main post office. Buildings up to a mile from the explosion were severely damaged while even further away roofs were ripped off, trees uprooted and cars thrown into the air.
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Shoppers, workers, civil servants, students and everyone else in the city centre all died from the effects of the explosion. The blast ripped into the sides of buildings turning windows into blizzards of deadly shrapnel. Many were trapped inside buildings and died as they burned and collapsed. The city was turned into an inferno as the heat wave set fire to anything it touched. Gas mains were ruptured and car petrol tanks exploded adding more fuel to the flames. The exact number of dead would never be known. The official figure of between 10,000 and 12,000 was thought by many to be an underestimate.
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Thousands were injured by the blast and flying debris and glass. Many died where they fell beyond hope of help. Many with horrendous wounds shuffled towards the cities' hospitals unaware that its facilities were wrecked and most of their staff dead or injured.
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A handful of police were the first to respond to the disaster but found they could not speak to the city or county headquarters. The central telephone exchange had been wrecked and oddly none of the radios worked. In fact, no electrical equipment in the city worked. It had been destroyed by the invisible nuclear electro-magnetic pulse from the bomb.
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When help started to arrive from nearby towns after some hours the rescuers were met by complete chaos as the walking wounded wandered dazed and shattered away from the city. Some helped others often equally as badly hurt. Many people were simply too shocked to do anything. A more resourceful element recovered quickly and began looting homes and shops before the engulfing flames reached them. Roads leading from the city soon became blocked as people looking for loved ones struggled towards the city against a tide of refugees.
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Some fire engines arrived and started to tackle outlying fires but they were overcome by the sheer enormity of the task and the lack of water. Many water mains had been ruptured and the pumping equipment at the water works had been knocked out. Water would also begin to be a problem as the rubble thrown out by the blast dammed the river which soon started to overflow its banks where its waters mixed with sewage from broken mains. Most of the buildings within a mile of the city centre which survived the blast were destroyed by the fires.
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By mid-day ambulances, fire engines and police vehicles from all over the county were converging on the city. But they could do little. The county emergency planning team and their opposite numbers in the police force who had planned to co-ordinate rescue efforts in a disaster lay in the rubble of their offices. A police Gold Control was set up in the neighbouring town to co-ordinate the rescue efforts but it would take days before their efforts would start to have an effect. The main concern was the injured. The initial report estimated that some 12,000 people needed hospital treatment. Arriving ambulances were overwhelmed and cars and buses were pressed into use. Homes were taken over as emergency dressing stations and schools became mortuaries. All the hospitals in the county were overwhelmed in hours. Over the coming days thousands would be taken to hospitals throughout the UK, the Republic and even to mainland Europe. But there were simply not enough facilities to deal with the numbers. The Government ordered the army to enforce a system planned for nuclear war known as triage - and many people with injuries requiring treatment which would be taken for granted in normal times were put into schools, village halls and sports centres where they received whatever treatment could be provided by local people. About 5,000 people died from their injuries and were hastily buried in mass graves with little ceremony.
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The explosion threw up a cloud of radioactive fall out which drifted on the wind covering most of the east of the county. Its deadly effects largely dissipated within a few days but it left a legacy of fear. It did not matter what "they" said people knew radiation was an invisible killer. In the next few days many people living miles from the city would flea their homes. Many never returned.
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The survivors recovered but the city never would. Its heart had literally been blown out and would be a "no go" area for many years. Many businesses large and small were destroyed. Government buildings were smashed. Private property worth billions of pounds was ruined. Public, business and private records were lost.
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The effects spread as TV and radio stations cancelled normal broadcasting. Throughout the country thousands fled from other cities fearing other bombs. The stock market crashed in the face of the sheer destruction of so much property and the fear of further attacks. The value of the pound on world markets fell and the gold price rocketed. Throughout the country people made up their own minds about the perpetrators of the crime and started to take revenge. The government appealed for calm but who had any confidence in a government and a world where such atrocities were allowed to happen?
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Blowing Up Belfast
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