Surviving the attacks: In Spain

It's back to normal as fast as possible

MADRID • The terror strikes in Madrid in 2004 and Barcelona in August may have been 13 years apart, but the two cities reacted exactly the same way: by returning to normality as fast as possible.

Madrid remains to this day the scene of Europe's deadliest ever terrorist attack, when Al Qaeda-inspired extremists planted a dozen bombs on commuter trains in March 2004, killing 191 people.

Ms Manuela Yela de la Torre, a confectionery vendor whose shop was directly in front of the ramps leading to the platforms at the city's Atocha station, remembers every second of what followed. "I heard a rumbling noise, an explosion; I saw the turnstiles spinning and people coming out," she said.

Yet by 6am the next morning, she had replaced the ceiling tiles, which had tumbled down in the bombings, and cleaned away the thick layer of dust. She opened the shop as usual. "If a son or a family member had been killed, that would have been more difficult," said the 59-year-old. "But I was on the outside."

Maria, who lives on the street next to the station, has a similar memory of how quickly things went back to normal in 2004.

"People continued to walk around, to take the train," said the laundry worker, declining to give her last name. "You have to go back to living, or else you stay stuck in the moment."

On Barcelona's Las Ramblas boulevard, where a 22-year-old rammed a truck into a crowd on Aug 17, killing 14 people in an assault claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group, tourists had likewise flocked back by the following day.

The candles, teddy bears and flowers left for the victims were cleared away by the local authorities two weeks later.

"Life is coming back," said Ms Montserrat Rovira, head of emergency social services in the city, who was tasked with providing psychological support to the families of the victims and others suffering from post-traumatic stress.

In another sign of the rapid return to reality, political squabbling resumed almost immediately between Madrid and the Catalan capital Barcelona, bitterly divided over a planned independence referendum in the north-eastern region.

Despite the sombre occasion, separatist activists jeered King Felipe VI and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy during a huge march against terrorism that saw tens of thousands of people take to Barcelona's streets.

The 2004 attacks took place three days before general elections, and the carnage heavily influenced the result - toppling the ruling conservatives, who faced damning accusations that their participation in the war in Iraq alongside the US had made Spain a target for militants.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2017, with the headline 'It's back to normal as fast as possible'. Print Edition | Subscribe