Madrid Bombing Hits Close to Home

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Police have found the body of a second man in the rubble of a parking garage at Madrid's airport. Authorities say the Basque separatist group ETA destroyed the building with a bomb last month. Reporter Jerome Socolovsky found himself uncomfortably close to the violence.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's listen next to what we call the reporter's notebook. One of our correspondents tells us a story that didn't make headlines but is revealing. Just before New Year's, a powerful explosion demolished an entire section of the parking garage at Madrid's new international airport. There were warnings, but two Ecuadorian immigrants were killed while napping in their cars. This blast was blamed on the Basque separatist group ETA, shattering its nine-month-old ceasefire.

Now, Jerome Socolovsky has covered the Basque conflict for the past six years and this time it came uncomfortably close.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: On New Year's Eve I came back from vacation and found that someone had blown up my car, or so it seemed. I'd left it in the five-story parking garage at the airport. Now a huge section of the garage, just about where I'd left the car, was gone.

At the entrance, several airport employees in neon green uniforms stood around a folding table. Is my car OK, I asked them. By now I knew it was an ETA attack, but I didn't know there were two people missing. ETA usually gives police time to evacuate everyone.

It was 11:00 p.m. on New Year's Eve. Perhaps it was not the best time to face Spanish bureaucracy. One of the neon people handed me a green piece of paper and said, fill out this form. OK, so I figured it was too much to ask that they have the license numbers of all the cars squashed under thousands of tons of rubble. But couldn't someone have made a list of cars that survived the blast? Apparently not.

I could almost smell the brand of rum these helpful customer service representatives had already started drinking to welcome the new year. So, how do we get home then, I asked the green woman. None of the car rental counters was open at this hour. I was holding my baby in my arms since the airline had lost his stroller and I was looking at a $100 cab ride to get my family home.

You have to cover all expenses, the woman said. Would I get my money back? In theory, she sighed. At this point my car was flat as a crushed beer can for all I knew. I wondered if all the other car owners were getting the same treatment.

The next morning I saw a photo in the paper, a giant gaping chasm where a parking garage once stood. In the background, through a haze of smoke, you could make out a vehicle parked on a floor that was still intact, very close to the brink. Same make, same model, same color as mine. Was that my car? I called one, two, three, four, five different customer help lines. We have no information, they all said.

Finally, four days after the bombing, I got a call. A stern voice said, you can come and get your car, and then the line went dead. Back at the airport, I walked past mounds of crumpled metal and dangling chunks of concrete flooring with parking spots still painted on them. And then I saw it only two rows away from the abyss.

I started quickly down the steps only to be stopped by a burly security guard. I showed him my green form but he said, no, I needed a white form. So it was back to the neon people at the airport claims desk. Now their primary concern seemed to be that I collect my unscratched vehicle and make myself scarce.

But what about my $100 cab fare? If I want that compensated, I should fill out this other beige form and send it to... by now, I'd given up. As I drove out of the parking garage, I realized that ours was a lucky escape. A day later and we would have been at the airport when the bomb went off.

If this is the way we were treated, I wondered about the families of the Ecuadorians and all the other real victims of terrorism in this country.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.

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