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Originally published April 15, 2013 at 9:31 PM | Page modified April 15, 2013 at 9:42 PM

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Horror, chaos for local marathoners

Hundreds from the Pacific Northwest were running in the Boston Marathon on Monday when two blasts ripped through the crowds, killing three people.

Seattle Times staff

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Bill Iffrig is 78 years old and had been running for four hours when the explosion knocked him to the ground.

“The force from it just turned my whole body to jelly and I went down,” the retired Lake Stevens carpenter said Monday. Fearing for his life, he thought, “this is probably it for me.”

Police ran toward him. A photographer snapped a picture that would ricochet around the world, along with a widely shown video. But Iffrig wasn’t hurt; he had a scrape on one knee. And he was just 15 feet from the finish.

“Somebody came by with a wheelchair but I said, ‘I’m fine.’ I wanted to finish,” Iffrig said. “First thing (when) I got up, I said, ‘There’s the line up there, I can get that far.’ ”

And with a little help he did.

Iffrig was among the more than 500 runners from Washington state who experienced to varying degrees the chaos and horror the bombings at Monday’s Boston Marathon.

Some, like Erika Lombardi, 45, of Bellingham, or Adam Cornell, of Edmonds, had finished the race and were in their hotel rooms. Others, like runner Amy Roe, editor of Seattle’s Real Change newspaper, heard the explosions and scrambled to make sure families and friends were safe. Still others, such as Mark Cliggett and his wife, both of Seattle, heard or saw the explosion and were turned back for their own safety.

Runner Karen Nolting, 53, of Covington, was barely a block from the finish when she heard a boom and saw smoke and flames to her left.

She saw pieces of fencing fly, and her ears started ringing. A man, possibly Iffrig, tumbled and rolled in front of her in the street. She and other runners surged to the right.

“I’m not sure if I was thrown, if everyone was pushed by the explosion or we were all just trying to get out of the way,” Nolting said. “I just knew I had to get out of there.”

She could see people bolting from a nearby grandstand. But there was nothing to do but keep running.

“We just had to keep going forward,” she said. “There was no place else to go.”

Anita Poppe, 64, of Bellevue, was waiting to catch a glimpse of her husband, Jeff, who had finished the race at 2:49 p.m. The first explosion came moments later.

Anita Poppe, who suspects she was just 10 feet from the blast, saw the white smoke and heard screams. She turned from the stands and sprinted. Soon it was a stampede with people falling down, she said.

“People were running for their lives,” Poppe said. “We were afraid we were going to be hit. I didn’t look back until the second explosion, and it was again puffs of heavy, thick white smoke.”

Meanwhile, her husband, seconds after crossing the finish line, heard the explosion 20 yards behind him and realized his wife had been standing near the bomb site.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God! She could be there!’ ” Jeff Poppe said.

When she found Jeff, he was in shock, Anita Poppe said, because he feared she was dead.

Faye Britt, of Everett, running in her fifth Boston Marathon, saw streams of people running up the street after the blasts.

“Some had blood on them. Some were trying to clean themselves off. Some were in shock, ” said Britt, 38.

“People were crying into their cellphones, trying to get hold of people. Other people were just in disbelief. Nobody really knew what happened.”

Britt is a middle-school assistant principal in Arlington. This was her fifth Boston Marathon and 49th marathon overall.

“How could someone do something like this? It’s so wrong,” she said.

Former Washington women’s soccer player Shannon Leach (then known as Shannon Dillon) heard the explosions long after her race was over but bumped into a volunteer who had been working the finish line.

“We were walking back and he said by the grace of God he had to go to the bathroom and stepped away right when (the explosions) went off,” she said. “He was so worried because he knows everybody at the finish line.”

Olympia orthopedic surgeon Brodie Wood was more than a mile from the finish line when police blocked the course and told runners to disperse. Although he was too far away to hear or see the explosions, “we saw, walking back, one woman with a severely bandaged head, that had received some sort of head blow,” he said.

Alice Snyder, of Stanwood, in Boston to watch her daughter and son-in-law run, had lunch reservations at a restaurant near the finish line but had to cancel because the daughter got shin splits and was running more slowly than expected.

“That’s probably the best thing that has happened to us in long time,” Snyder said. Her daughter and son-in-law were taken in vans to an evacuation site on the other side of the city.

Snyder said she was working in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001.

“The feeling here is very much the same. Everybody is in a state of shock,” she said. “I never thought I’d have to experience something like that again.”

Some couldn’t contain their grief; others struggled with anger.

“This is stunningly horrible,” said Adam Cornell, of Edmonds, who finished the race 50 minutes before the first explosion. “This shouldn’t happen. This was 27,000 people pursuing their passion, just trying to enjoy their sport. They weren’t hurting anybody.

“This sport does absolutely no harm to anyone. To have this happen ...” he trailed off.

Cornell couldn’t shake the realization that timing was all that stood between victims and those who escaped without injury.

The 78-year-old Iffrig had no illusions, either. Before the explosions, he’d been feeling great.

“I was all pumped up and, hey, I’m all done with this thing, and then all the sudden, boom, ‘My God, what was that?’ and my whole body went into shock and I could feel myself losing control,” he said.

“I was really lucky. If I’d been any closer at all to that thing, I wouldn’t have made it.”

For him, as for many, Monday’s odyssey didn’t end with crossing the finish line.

With sirens sounding all around him, Iffrig walked six blocks to find his wife, Donna. The couple had met on a blind date and then married 58 years ago. They’ve lived in the same Lake Stevens house for half a century.

“We’re not quitters,” he said.

News researcher Gene Balk and staff reporters Jack Broom, Jayson Jenks, Erik Lacitis, Katherine Long, Brian M. Rosenthal, Linda Shaw, Craig Welch and Christine Willmsen contributed to this report.

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