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Long Islanders describe scenes of horror at marathon

A runner embraces another woman on the marathon

A runner embraces another woman on the marathon route near Kenmore Square after two bombs exploded during the 117th Boston Marathon. (April 15, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

In the pack of runners near the 26-mile mark of the Boston Marathon shortly before 3 p.m. Monday, Kathi Berson of Northport wondered why everyone in front of her had suddenly stopped.

Closer to the finish line, while Stan Johnson of Port Washington watched proudly for his wife, Nora, to run past, he heard a boom. Then another.

"Why would a cannon be going off at this time?" Johnson wondered. Then the answer dawned on him and he began desperately dialing her cellphone.

Two bombs exploded near the marathon's finish line Monday, killing at least three people and injuring scores. Those near the blasts recounted shock, then anguish as their desperate search for loved ones began, and they realized that they had witnessed a possible act of terrorism.

Dozens of Long Islanders in the city, who came to run the marathon or support friends and family in the race, appeared to have escaped without injury last night, including 30 to 40 members of the Greater Long Island Running Club and their supporters.

"So far we're hearing that everyone's OK," said Sue Fitzpatrick, the club's director of development. She and another club member were at the club's Plainview office Monday trying to contact runners or monitor social media for updates about them, she said.

Berson, 62, an English as a Second Language teacher, was far enough away from the explosions that she did not at first realize what had happened. When she heard, she panicked: her husband and children would have been near the blasts, she feared.

Police were telling everybody to leave the area. "It was a mess," she said. She wandered back toward their hotel, having no cellphone to call her family. "All of a sudden I heard my name," she said, and she saw her family. "We were in tears. They were so close -- they said the explosions were loud and no one knew what was happening."

Berson didn't finish, and hadn't run her best race, which relieved her later. "If I had been a few minutes faster, it could have been me crossing at that worst time," she said.

Nora Johnson, 60, a school board trustee and volunteer in Port Jefferson, said she was about half a mile from the finish line when she heard what she believes was the first blast, followed by the wail of emergency vehicles.

"By the last mile of a marathon you're already in a different zone," she said. "It was very hard to grasp what was going on at first, and then when you realize what did happen, that a group set off a bomb at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, horror sets in."

She carried a cellphone but it wasn't working. She walked to the family meeting area, where she'd first planned to meet her husband after the race, but left when police told the crowd the area was unsafe, she said.

When she finally got through to her husband, it took them another two hours to find each other in Boston's unfamiliar streets, some of which police had evacuated.

Reunion was sweet. "I gave her a big hug and a kiss and said, 'I love you,' " said Stan Johnson, 62, a lawyer.

John Fishlow, 54, of Melville, sales director for a data networking company, finished his sixth Boston Marathon about 14 minutes before the explosions.

"It's horrible," he said. "It's disgusting. It's terrible, and I'm just glued to the television."

Lance Svendsen, 28, of Summit, N.J., had just crossed the finish line when the first blast went off. He initially thought it was to celebrate finishers, but then the second blast came.

"I thought, 'That's a weird celebration cannon,' but 15 seconds later, another one went off," Svendsen said.

"I found my dad, then I ran back to look for my teammates. They started wheeling the injured," he said. "I saw a lady who didn't look like she made it. I saw another guy being wheeled. I checked on four of my teammates," who were all fine, he said.

Still, Svendsen said he is undeterred from entering the upcoming New York City Marathon. Registration for the marathon begins next week and it is scheduled for Nov. 3. Many other local runners also said they would still sign up.

With Chau Lam, Patricia Kitchen and Tim Herrera

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