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Marathon Runner Witnesses Boston, Texas Disasters
Updated: Wednesday, April 24 2013, 06:21 PM CDT
People keep asking Joe Berti if he feels unlucky.
A bomb exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon seconds 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 in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday. "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 on 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 like 30 seconds 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 a few 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.
But a woman right next to Amy had her leg torn off from the knee down, and lost all the fingers in her left hand. Amy Berti went to get help, and once that woman was being cared for, Amy's frantic search for her husband began.
His cellphone battery died. He wasn't on the bus. He wasn't in the medical tents.
"I had just watched him cross where that bomb was, so I didn't know if he made it through and I couldn't find him," she said. "I started to freak out a little bit."
After about an hour, the couple reunited at their hotel, both of them OK. They left Boston Tuesday morning and returned to Austin, with every hope of getting back to life as normal with their two girls, ages 8 and 11.
Joe Berti went back to work. On Wednesday, he had a daylong meeting in Dallas, followed by a museum tour. He was heading home on Interstate 35 and nearing Waco Wednesday night when he saw black smoke up ahead to his left. As he drove closer, he saw — and felt — his second explosion in two days.
"You've got to be kidding!" he remembers thinking. He described the giant fireball as a massive force that shook his car. He said it looked like pictures of nuclear explosions that he has seen on television.
He didn't know what he had just witnessed — but he pulled over and took a picture.
"My next reaction was to get out of there because something fell on the top of my car — some debris or something fell from the sky," he said.
As black smoke billowed over the highway in front of him, Berti held his breath and drove through it. After a few attempts, he was able to reach his wife — sparing her another round of worry.
"I'm like, 'Honey, what is with your luck? Why are you in all of these places?" Amy Berti said. When a reporter suggested that Joe should stay home for a while, she joked, "We need to keep him moving. Maybe he just needs to stand in an open field."
Web Extra: Special West Explosion coverage
(Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)