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Witnesses describe reactions when blast occurred

Bobby Ross Jr. and John Perry

April 20, 1995

Within minutes of the explosion which rocked downtown Oklahoma City on Wednesday, eyewitnesses and survivors described their reactions.

At Benchmark Motors Inc., 1225 N Broadway, salesman Ron White

said he had just arrived at the Fashion Cleaners Laundry, 106 NW 6, when he heard the boom, saw the smoke "and watched the top of the (federal) building just disappear. It was big chunks of debris twirling and shooting up in the air. It still doesn't even seem real. "

The flying debris dented the hood of his black Mercedes, but he said "my problems are just so minor compared to anything else. "

Marcial Escobedo, 31, owner of the newly opened Abuelita Rosa Mexican cafe at 1220 1 N Hudson, was standing behind the small eatery's burglar bars, which stayed intact even as green glass broke apart in every direction.

He said he was on his way to work when smoke filled the sky.

"I thought that was it," he said of the explosion. "I thought it was the end of the world. "

David Severe, director of local church ministries for the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church, said First Methodist Church, 131 NW 4, was severely damaged.

"More than likely it will have to be razed. All of those beautiful stained glass windows are shattered to pieces," Severe said. "The balcony is just hanging in all kinds of bad places and shapes. The skylight and windows are out. The roof looks like it's been lifted up. "

Severe said First Methodist would worship at Oklahoma City University on Sunday.

Inside the First Baptist Church sanctuary at 1201 N Robinson, Bart Nixon shook his head at the sky visible through six 8-by-15-foot stained glass windows that were blown apart. A cool breeze pushed rubbish across pew cushions, while sirens wailed outside.

"It's so unbelievable," said Nixon, an architect and church member who recently helped with remodeling the red brick church, constructed in 1910. "We thought the building was going to fall down, it shook so bad. "

At the Law Center, 915 N Robinson, Sherri Herrell had been walking toward the back door when the shock wave hit.

"It shook the building. Glass was flying," she said.

At Merkel X-Ray Co., 225 NW 9, customer service representative Sam Davenport said office workers were blown from their chairs by the blast.

"Come here and look at this," he said, while walking toward an office with a west-facing window which had been shattered.

"Our sales manager had just walked out of this office," he said.

"It would have killed him if he'd been here. "

At the nearby Lawyers Title of Oklahoma City building, 1141 N Robinson, business administrator Jean Ann Riggs said the office's weekly prayers had paid off.

"It's just a miracle that no one in the building was hurt," Riggs said. "We pray every Monday morning for our business, for our employees . . . "

At The Good Printing Co., 1201 N Harvey, cameraman Andy Cullison said he felt the impact first, then heard the explosion. As Cullison watched events from the corner, a firefighter approached at 11:10 a.m. and warned him and others to evacuate the area.

"They believe there's a second device and it's more powerful than the first," the firefighter said.

Many of the 70 residents of the Wesley Village Retirement Community, 300 NW 12, were enjoying a coffee break when the explosion occurred.

John Pendleton, 57, was still asleep. He woke up in a hurry.

"I didn't know what it was that woke me up," he said. "It scared the hell out of me. "

Steve Bittinger, 46, said he was on his hands and knees cleaning a blackboard near the First Lutheran Church's double doors when the force burst open the doors. The church is at 1300 N Robinson.

"I rolled out of the way," Bittinger said. "If I hadn't moved, I would have been maimed.

"My reflexes are still pretty good," he added with a nervous laugh.


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