Rescuers, victims seek reunion after Madrid bombings

MADRID, Spain -- The woman with shrapnel in her neck remembered little about her rescuer except that he was young and wore dark clothes. Amnesia from the March 11 bomb blast in Madrid erased the rest.

But her rescuer's recollection was vivid. "I'm looking for a blond woman who could not open her eyes due to the shards of glass and was feeling dizzy," the plainclothes policeman wrote on an Internet site.

Eventually, they found each other -- yet another pair of strangers thrown together by one hellish instant, separated in a maelstrom of blood and sirens, then compelled to find each other again as they try to heal from the tragedy that killed 191 people.

Clara Escribano, a 45-year-old nurse, says her rescuer, whom she would identify only as Felix, age 34, actually saved her twice: once on the morning of the bombings, pulling her from the wreckage of one of four bombed commuter trains, then again by helping her remember it all and get on with her life.

In fact, the only happiness Escribano has felt since the bombing was meeting Felix. It was he who tracked her down after she appeared on a television program about the bombings, which also wounded more than 2,000 and have been blamed on Islamic militants.

"Felix has given me the details I didn't know, where the bomb was and how I managed to get out of the car," Escribano said. She and Felix plan to stay in touch and someday take a ride together on a commuter train. For now, Escribano can't go near them.

The Web page where Escribano's rescuer posted his note, www.quienmeayudo.com, was created by three anonymous Spaniards.

As of Thursday, 18 people injured in the blasts had ads on the page, as did 66 who provided help.

"People involved in a tragedy want to get in contact as a way of closing an unpleasant chapter in their lives," said Pedro Rodriguez, a psychologist who treats survivors of the March 11 bombings. "For the injured, there is a human need to say simply thank you."

For some, the page does not seek any sort of joyful reunion.

A 29-year-old widower who identified himself only as Jesus wrote this: "Hello, I am the husband of Ana Isabel. A dark woman with mid-length hair who was at a late stage of pregnancy ... My wife and son died, but I want thank those who helped her."

Other survivors seem to feel guilty. At a makeshift memorial at Atocha station, an ambulance driver's vest is placed near candles with a handwritten message that reads: "The only thing I regret is not having been able to save more lives. I'm sorry."

And in one of the more ironic cases, an undocumented Romanian immigrant who pulled survivors off one of the bombed trains -- who is now being targeted for expulsion -- is seeking out one of the people he helped for testimony in his favor.

After the bombings, the government said undocumented immigrants who were injured or relatives of those killed would automatically receive residency.

Marian Chatineanu, 24, escaped unhurt as he traveled in one of the trains on his way to work at a construction site. He rushed to help commuters get out of the wreckage.

Chatineanu came forward to apply for papers, citing psychological damage. In his dreams he sees a man with an open skull, a naked woman, people bleeding and tripping over the railway tracks. These are images of people he saved.

One was a man named Sergio Palacios, in his 40s. "He had no pants or shoes and had great pain in his chests and legs," Chatineanu recalls.

An association of March 11 victims helped Chatineanu find Palacios so he can try to persuade immigration authorities to cancel the expulsion order.

"We were introduced. He gave me a hug and he thanked me but unfortunately he didn't remember me at all," Chatineanu said. "Anyway, he's told me he will do everything he can to help me."

Chatineanu said has no regrets. "I was happy to save people. It made me feel useful in life."

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