A small, loud reminder of Paris security threats
PARIS—At around 7:50 pm Thursday (2:50 am Friday in Manila), the sound of an explosion ripped through one section of this city’s famous Gare du Nord train station. It was followed by the screams of a few dozen transiting passengers fleeing the scene — and then, after a couple of seconds of uncertainty, with people looking around or exchanging glances, the daily din of a major hub made itself heard again. Commuters at the busiest train station in Europe continued on their way.
I was several meters away from the scene, saw the panicking passengers, heard the explosion. After a couple of minutes, I made my way to the COP21 booth nearest the site of the blast and asked, like others milling about the kiosk, for an explanation.
Gare du Nord, like other principal transit points in this city, has information kiosks set up expressly to meet the needs of the 45,000 or so participants of the 21st Conference of Parties on climate change, which the French government is hosting. The booth was right in front of the four entrances to the 5 line, in the underground Metro, which I was supposed to take.
The entrances had been cordoned off by French police since at least 730 pm; by the time I got to that floor, a large crowd of commuters had already massed outside the entrances.
I counted at least four French soldiers also at the scene. The Army has been deploying highly visible three-man or four-man patrols for days: at the airport, on the streets, at tourist magnets like Notre Dame, outside the Le Bourget convention center where the climate negotiations were taking place.
“So what happened?” I asked.
A COP21 guide answered, “The police found an abandoned bag.” The police had to detonate the bag, she added.
The sound we heard, then, which literally stopped me and others in our tracks, must have been a controlled explosion carried out by a police bomb disposal unit, like the one that occurred in the same station just last November, a few days after the November 13 mass shootings. This time, the bag was underground, on the 5 line to Place d’Italie.
The French security forces had contained the problem, and minimized the scale of the disruption. A few minutes after the loud bang we all heard, the 5 line was back on track.
Another COP participant at the booth, a woman who spoke in English, told someone who had just come up: “The blast was so strong, my ears are still ringing!”
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