‘Pompeii comes to mind’: Residents return to a moment frozen in time as Boylston Street reopens in Marathon bombing area

These tables were set at a restaurant for a meal that was never served due to the bombing evacuations.
These tables were set at a restaurant for a meal that was never served due to the bombing evacuations.Evan Allen/Globe Staff

The young men had clearly been having a party in the moments before they fled. Half-eaten pizzas and beer bottles cluttered the tables, and the place smelled of old food and trash that had not been taken out for a week.

The apartment on Boylston Street was vacated in minutes on April 15 after the blasts hit the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and when a city official took its residents back through for the first time this morning, everything was exactly where they left it.

“Pompeii comes to mind,” said Richard O’Brien, who works for the Department of Neighborhood Development. “They kind of got up, and just left.”

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At 10 a.m. today, Back Bay residents evacuated from their homes after the two blasts near the Boston Marathon finish line killed three and injured more than 280, began to be allowed back for the first time. Every hour, another block of Boylston Street opened up, beginning with the block betwen Hereford and Gloucester, and residents were led in small groups from the Hynes Convention Center to their doors by city employees.

The streets remained empty. At Whiskey’s, the big front windows had been opened, and employees were hanging out of them, cleaning. In the distance, police lights flashed.

City blocks were still barricaded by Boston police. While residents and business owners are allowed back into homes and storefronts, the area is still off-limits to the general public for a while, according to Sheila Dillon, director of the Department of Neighborhood Development.

“It depends on how people are feeling,” said Dillon, of when the area could reopen to the public. “We have to give people time.”

A spokeswoman for the city said Census data showed about 2,200 residents lived and 400 businesses operated in the originally impacted area, though the crime scene was later collapsed.

Remnants of the Marathon from before the bombs went off could still be seen in store windows: signs cheering on runners, and wrinkled, deflated balloons in a window display.

Bicycles were locked to posts on the sidewalk. At one outdoor restaurant, the tables were still neatly set, though the silverware rollups were soggy and unraveling from the rain; a single beer glass had been overturned.

On the doors, city inspectors had written notes about the status of the buildings, noting, for example, that they were “cleaned” or “locked.”

One concern people have: pets.

“Potentially, pets that may be deceased,” said city official Richard DeRosa, who was manning a table offering counseling for residents struggling to return. DeRosa is normally the director of behavioral health for the city’s healthy baby program.

Lindsay Donnellan, and her fiancé Chris Mahoney, both 29, were watching the Marathon on Monday outside their home on Boylston Street between Gloucester and Fairfield, and were only about a block from the blasts. They could see the second bomb go off – and when it did, they fled.

“Terrifying,” said Donnellan.

They have been staying with friends, Mahoney said, in Brookline and Allston. They left with nothing: they have been buying clothing. As the front door to their apartment building opened, the smell of stale trash filled the air. On the steps, a Boston Marathon bell on a lanyard sat abandoned.

Donnellan and Mahoney were lucky. Their windows had been flung wide open when they left, and while their apartment was chilly, it smelled like springtime and rain.

City officials with flashlights checked for signs of pests attracted by food, or structural issues. There were none.

“It’s a relief,” Mahoney said of being home again.

As he walked back to the Hynes from the couple’s apartment, O’Brien, the city official, said that the abandoned streets and apartments frozen in the moments of the blast were eerie.

“You’re struck, when you walk out the doors, it’s a canyon. It became real,” he said.

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