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Explosion at Olympic Park after Bomb Scare

July 27, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ A massive explosion rocked Centennial Olympic Park shortly after a bomb scare early Saturday, killing at least one person and injuring scores of revelers in the social center of the games.

Cameraman Mark Field of KNBC in Los Angeles said he was shooting footage near a sound light tower when he was told to evacuate about 1:15 a.m.

``A security guard tried to move us back because he said there was a suspicious package,″ Field said. ``We got about 50 feet away and turned back. About five minutes later, we saw a large flash-bang. It did not seem like that large a bomb because the package was not that big, but pieces were flying everywhere.″

Three explosive devices were later found in the park and police were sweeping the area with bomb-sniffing dogs, CNN reported.

Police and Mayor Bill Campbell confirmed at least one dead. A morgue attendant said he was told that four people were killed, and several witnesses reported seeing dead bodies.

Hospitals said they were treating at least 75 injured people.

Gary McConnell, director of the State Olympic Law Enforcement Command, told NBC that authorities were investigating the possibility of a pipe bomb.

Snenetricus Warford said the explosion appeared to come from a garbage can. ``I looked up, there was fire and smoke going up. People were there. It blew them over.″

The park is in the heart of downtown within walking distance of three major Olympic venues: the Omni, Georgia World Congress Center and the Georgia Dome, where the U.S. men’s basketball Dream Team game ended about midnight.

While people pass through metal detectors at all Olympic venues, anyone is free to walk through the park.

The explosion rocked neighboring buildings, shattered windows and could be heard throughout the downtown area, where tens of thousands of people have gathered every night since the Olympic Games began July 19. A Fire Department spokeswoman said at least 150 people were injured, but witnesses put the figure much lower.

R. Green, a morgue attendant at the Fulton County medical examiner’s office, said he was told by the bomb squad that four people had been killed.

``I felt the ground shake,″ said Desmond Edwards, an Atlanta schoolteacher. ``Some people looked really messed up. There were rivers of blood.″

There was no immediate indication of the cause of the blast. The last fatalities connected to an Olympic Games were the 11 Israeli athletes killed by terrorists at the Munich Games in 1972.

``It’s horrible _ the worst fears,″ said Bob Brennan, a spokesman for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

``I thought it was fireworks, like a big boom, and I saw three guys laying in the street,″ said Terry Tyson. ``They all had leg injuries. Blood was running down the street. It was horrible.″

Police officer Ron Otero, who was patrolling in the park, said he was about 50 yards away when the tower exploded.

``I saw lots of smoke and heard a big explosion, very big _ it was like a shock wave hit us,″ Otero said. ``The next thing you saw was people on the ground.″

The tower, apparently used for lighting and sound near the main concert stage at the park, was still standing after the blast, but debris littered the base of the structure.

Grady Memorial Hospital was treating 35 people, said night administrator Albert Weems. Two people were treated for lacerations at Crawford Long Hospital, and eight were treated at Georgia Baptist, for minor injuries, mostly cuts. Georgia Baptist was told to expect 40 people overall.

Police cordoned off the area for several blocks around where the explosion occurred, forming lines by interlocking arms and driving back tourists and journalists. They said the security net was to protect bystanders from further explosions.

Centennial Olympic Park was opened just a week before the Olympics began, built on an area formerly occupied by vacant and decrepit buildings. The 21-acre park has sponsor buildings, concert stages and exhibits, and people were allowed to roam freely without the restrictions imposed on the Olympic sporting venues.

President Clinton, who has been in Atlanta twice during the Olympics, was awakened and told of the blast, Chief of Staff Leon Panetta told NBC.

Brennan said there were no plans to alter Saturday’s schedule of sports events.

``Oh yes, I am assuming we can conduct the games,″ he said. ``We don’t know what happened, how it happened. So much speculation going on that it’s difficult to know exactly what happened.″

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