April 19, 2013

Marathon runner witnesses Boston bombing and Texas explosion

The Associated Press

People keep asking Joe Berti if he feels unlucky.

click image to enlarge

In this Wednesday, April 17, 2013, photo provided by Joe Berti, a plume of smoke rises from a fertilizer plant fire near Waco, Texas. A massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said Thursday morning. (AP Photo/Joe Berti)

Photo by Joe Berti

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This combination photos shows, left, Amy Berti, in a photo taken by her husband, Joe Bertie in Boston, on Sunday, April 14, 2013, and right, an Associated Press file photo that shows Amy Berti, center, in the same coat, running from the first explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, 2013. A bomb exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon seconds after Amy's husband, Joe Berti, finished the race. Two days later, Joe Berti was in his home state of Texas when he saw a fertilizer plant explode near Waco. (AP Photo)

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A bomb exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon moments after Berti finished the race. Two days later, he was in his home state of Texas when he saw a fertilizer plant explode near Waco.

"I was just like, 'I can't believe this!'" said Berti, who said he had never witnessed an explosion before. Then he thought: "I just want to get out of here and get away from all these explosions."

But Berti, as it turns out, is far from unlucky. Instead, he feels fortunate. He left both tragedies unscathed, while members of his running group and his wife — who was closer to the Boston explosion than he was — were also unhurt.

"It's a miracle," he said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. "People keep saying, 'Don't you feel unlucky?' and I was actually the opposite — saying not only do I not feel unlucky, but I feel blessed that my wife could be 10 yards from the explosion and not have a scratch."

The bombings in Boston, which happened about 10 seconds apart at the finish line of Monday's marathon, killed three people and left more than 180 wounded. In West, Texas, which is near Waco, a fertilizer plant exploded Wednesday, killing at least five people, injuring more than 160, and leveling homes, apartments and a school.

"We're grateful that God has been merciful to us," said Berti's wife, Amy. "We are just praying for the people who were so much less fortunate than we were."

Berti's road to the Boston marathon started just a couple months ago, when he decided to run with Champions4Children, a charity that helps kids with rare or undiagnosed disorders and their families. He was one of eight Austin-area runners who ran the marathon with that group. Each ran for a sick child or "training partner," who tracked his or her runner's marathon progress from home.

During the last four miles, the 43-year-old Berti, who wore bib number 25472, felt his body shutting down, and his pace slowed. But he was running for his partner Drew, and he vowed to finish.

"I had just run to the finish line and... (moments) later I heard the first explosion, and then turned around and saw the smoke," he said. "I knew immediately that it was a bomb. ... Then the second explosion occurred and I saw a wave of people running."

At that point, he said, he was so exhausted he couldn't run anymore. He worried about getting caught in a stampede. He was concerned about members of his running group who were behind him. He also thought about his wife, whom he was unable to reach and was probably wondering where he was. He told himself she was fine, because she was supposed to be at a restaurant.

"But then, I was like, 'She never listens to me, and she may have been at the finish line,'" a thought he quickly tried to remove from his mind.

As it turns out, Amy Berti and a friend were just yards from the first explosion. She had just taken a picture of Joe, and was heading to the finish line to find him when the bomb went off. She and her friend were both hit by shrapnel. Amy was uninjured, her friend was bruised.

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