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After the NYC subway blast, a frantic stampede to safety

People evacuate after an explosion at the Port

People evacuate after an explosion at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Dec. 11, 2017, in Manhattan. Credit: AFP/Getty Images / Bryan R. Smith

In the moments after a crude explosive device partially detonated Monday morning in a Manhattan subway tunnel, terrified rush-hour commuters and other riders raced to get out of the smoke-filled underground corridor and first responders rushed in.

Soon, an all-too-familiar scene emerged — this time deep beneath the Port Authority in a passage connecting the Times Square and Eighth Avenue subway terminals. An area teeming with tourists, commuters and everyday New Yorkers minutes before, was now a crime scene devoid of anyone but heavily armed NYPD cops and investigators combing for clues amid the settling smoke and dust.

Close by, Akayed Ullah, 27, of Brooklyn, the man authorities said strapped the device to his body and set it off, lay sprawled in the subway corridor. The first officers to reach the wounded Ullah found the remnants of a pipe bomb strapped to his body with a combination of Velcro and zip ties, authorities said.

Up at at street level and out of harm’s way, handyman John Lara, 51, of the Bronx, said he was heading to a subway train in the crowded corridor when a “stampede” of people came running his way. Lara said he turned and joined the crowd — one of dozens running for their lives.

“I saw a lady get knocked to the ground,” Lara said, adding that he didn’t know if she was injured. “I just kept running.”

While investigators worked the crime scene, armed members of the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group fanned out across the perimeter of the Port Authority Terminal blocking access to 8th Avenue from 40th Street to 43rd street. All traffic near Times Square was shut down in the immediate aftermath, snarling one of the world’s busiest Monday morning commutes. Streets and transit routes in the area near the explosion were reopened in time for the evening rush.

Port Authority Officer Anthony Manferdini was on patrol in a tunnel connecting Seventh and Eighth Avenues when he heard the blast and immediately ran toward a “chaotic, smoke-filled scene,” Port Authority PBA spokesman Bobby Egbert said.

Manferdini was the first to reach Ullah, according to John Miller, NYPD deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism.

The officer spotted wires coming from Ullah’s jacket and pants, and stopped the suspect from grabbing a nearby cellphone, Egbert said.

Manferdini detained Ullah as three police officers — Jack Collins, Sean Gallagher and Drew Preston — reached the scene.

“They [the officers] described a scene to me of a smoke- and debris-filled passageway, panicked people,” Egbert said.

The NYPD bomb squad and EMT officials then arrived to help remove Ullah, who was taken to Bellevue Hospital with burns on his abdomen and hands.

For New Yorkers and tourists near the scene, it was a terrifying break in the morning routine — but not enough to deter most from visiting and living in a city long considered the target of choice for terrorists.

Christina Bethea, 29, of Yonkers was aboard a 1 train that had just arrived at the 42nd Street stop when she said a loud “boom” jolted her to attention.

“I didn’t know if it was explosion, if it was someone being shot . . . everyone was confused,” Bethea said.

Despite it all, Bethea said she will keep “moving forward,” resigned to the fact that some things, she can’t control.

“I’m just going to continue living,” she said. “There’s nothing I can do. What’s going to happen will happen.”

John Petro, a Columbia, Maryland, resident visiting New York City with his wife, echoed that sentiment.

“The reason we came to New York is because it is a vibrant city,” he said. “It comes with the territory.”

With Ravji Desai, Laura Figueroa and Michael O’Keeffe

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