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Reporter's Notebook:  Gruesome Scene on Perfectly Normal Day in Jerusalem

According to Israeli officials the bus bombing Thursday morning in Jerusalem was the 28th in the past three and a half years and the first suicide bombing in the city since last September. The latest bombing took place on one of the main east-west thoroughfares in west Jerusalem, the route Correspondent Larry James takes to work every day. Here are his thoughts on the bombing and on one day in the life of Jerusalem.

Azza street is only two lanes wide and is quite busy most mornings. My route joins Azza at a point where it begins winding its way up a long hill toward the center of the city's business district. Some mornings the armed guards stationed at the home of Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Azza street stop traffic to allow the cabinet minister to leave for work, compounding what is usually a very slow trip. Most days, though, it is just a steady, if slow crawl, up the street in bumper to bumper traffic.

I was in the office early this morning, so I had passed the scene of the blast at least 30 minutes before it occurred. But as I passed this morning, the normal routine was interrupted by the woman in a car ahead of me that was just inching along allowing a large gap to develop between her vehicle and a bus that had just pulled away from a stop.

At first a bit irritated at her slow pace, my anger quickly faded when I saw she had a small child, maybe three or four years old, riding in a car seat in the back of her vehicle. Maybe I would be keeping my distance from a Jerusalem bus too, if I had a child in my car, I thought.

I had only been in the office a few minutes when the phone rang. It was our office administrator telling me there had been a bombing at the intersection of Azza and Orlozorov streets, just a short distance from the VOA bureau. In minutes I was there.

Police and rescue workers were just arriving. It was a gruesome scene. I moved to within perhaps 20 meters of the bus. The back half had been torn away. The sheet metal pulled back and in places blown into the apartment buildings that line both sides of the street.

Several bodies could still be seen sitting in their bus seats, the bodies grotesquely disfigured by the force of the explosives. One body, a woman I think, sat upright, the face and neck blackened by the explosion, head tilted back, hair blown away from the face and frozen in a gruesome reflection of the force of the blast.

As I approached the bus I became aware of a crunching sound as I stepped onto a layer of shattered glass from the bus's windows. I glanced at my feet and avoiding stepping on a human tooth and what looked like part of an eyebrow.

Even though police and rescue workers were still arriving, the Zaka were already on the scene. Zaka are religious volunteers who collect human remains, an act they consider a sacred duty.

They had not yet begun their work, so as I looked I could see there were two bodies still lying on the side of the road. It was impossible to tell if they had been blown from the bus or if they had had the great misfortune of being on the sidewalk when the bus exploded. It was not hard to imagine what could have happened to anyone walking nearby or riding in a car behind the bus.

In that same moment I thought back to a half hour earlier where, on that same stretch of road, a careful mother had taken precautions to protect her child.