Oslo: One week later

Posted 07.31.11

OSLO, NORWAY | Friday, July 22, 3:20 p.m. I had just gotten home and, as is my custom, was about to turn on the computer when I heard what I thought was a loud thunder clap so I thought I'd wait a little and started doing other things.

An hour later a person from work called to tell me there'd been a huge explosion down by the government buildings, asked if was I alright, to stay away from downtown, and not to leave home.

Someone's punctured a gas line I thought -- though that thought lasted only momentarily.

The moment I turned on the television I just froze -- the devastation in the areas mentioned looked like a war zone -- you've all seen the pictures by now. But then at 5 p.m. the media started to report a shooter dressed like a policeman out at Utoya (an island twenty miles outside Oslo) where the Young Labour Party was holding its annual summer camp.

Focus was still on the downtown area but bit by bit the gravity of the situation out at Utoya was beginning to hit home. A madman was gunning young people down at the camp -- if they leapt into the water to swim the half a mile to the mainland, he'd continue to shoot, into the water. No images, no media thus far -- only radio reports. However, the world had begun to connect the two.

I turned everything off at around 7 p.m., overly saturated with the beginnings of a huge tragedy in this little peaceful country and lay down to try to read a little. About an hour later I knew they had apprehended the shooter before I heard it on the radio as I have a hospital five blocks up the road equipped with a helipad. Helicopters were flying over my building (I'm on the top floor) one after the other, at times queued, waiting to land. I counted sixteen of them and then of course had to turn on the computer, the TV, and the radio once again. I listened until I could no more and went to sleep -- the count at the time being seven dead in Oslo and five dead at the island.

I awoke on Saturday morning to stunning news -- 91 dead (now readjusted to 76 but with some still missing) and started my media observations all over again. Across from the south side of this little island is a camping area -- smaller but much like the one back home in Ayer's Cliff, Quebec -- and as this was the time for the Oslo summer exodus, lovers of long nights and light, the camp was full.

Without much consideration for themselves, these campers jumped into their small motorboats, row boats, inflatable boats and began to charge towards the island -- some being shot at both on the way there and on the way back. Their stories were heart wrenching -- having to leave people behind because boats were becoming overloaded, having to decide who could possibly be saved and who could not.

Somewhere around 250 people were saved by the heroic effort of these campers who were only there to enjoy summer's sun with their families. All of this happened between 5 and 6 p.m. when the police arrived and began to second some of the campers' boats. The police and the campers continued however to work together like a well-oiled machine, the police doing police work and the campers taking hold of the kids, warming them up and bringing them to the hotel which had been emptied of guests for use of the children, families, crisis teams, etc. Because the Young Labour campers were from all over the country, and there were 650 to 700 of them, most communities in this country have been personally affected by this awful event in one way or another.

Regardless of what you may read in the North American media, please know that all emergency services in this country were mobilized within moments. The police, fire personnel, medical staff, clerics from all religions, psychologists, counselors, and the ordinary guy on the street for that matter, were all outstanding and provided what people needed -- not just for the injured and for the families of the deceased but churches opened throughout the country, listening, hugging, handholding.

There are flowers everywhere -- on every street corner, in store windows, and in the hands of families walking down to pay their respects. Oslo streets have been eerily silent and at the same time, people have felt close -- more smiles, less rush.

A good friend wrote to me and said "I am again struck by the steadfastness and unshakeable civility of the Norwegian people. They, the people of your heritage, are an example to us all."

Norway has come very together during this time. We've had memorial services, impromptu rose parades and concerts (200,000 in Oslo alone and that's in a city of under 500,00), flags at half mast today, one week later and condolences pouring in from a world that doesn't understand how this could have happened here.

But it did and by now, if we hadn't realized it before, we all know it can happen anywhere.

Copyright © 2011 Berit Lundh/Log Cabin Chronicles/07.11