Boston After the Bombs: The Struggle to Return to Normal

Some marathoners and residents remain homeless. The National Guard has sealed off a large swath of the Back Bay. Some damage done may never be healed

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Spencer Platt / Getty Images

People hug and cry during a vigil for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings at Boston Commons on April 16, 2013 in Boston, Mass.

Once a year for the last six years, Don Yohman has rented a room on the third floor of the Charlesmark Hotel at 655 Boylston Street overlooking the finishing line of the Boston marathon. The 61-year-old comes with a group of friends from Cincinnati and they all run the marathon together.

This year, the bombs got in the way. Yohman was sidelined at the Massachusetts Avenue bridge when the explosions went off and all he could frantically think of was his friends — all good runners, likely past the finish line and hanging out at his hotel room window cheering. At that moment, his girlfriend would’ve been right at the finishing line if she was on pace. The first bomb exploded in front of Yohman’s hotel just yards from the finishing line.

(MORE: The Slow Shock Wave: A Marathon Finisher Remembers How It All Sank In)

And he was stuck. After good Samaritans invited the General Electric engineer into their homes, he managed to reach his running coach in Cincinnati and find out that his friends and girlfriends had crossed the finish line without harm, even though the bomb went off just about then. But he had a different problem. The hotel has been evacuated and he can’t get back to his belongings: he has no ID, no credit cards, no money and no luggage. Everything is stuck in his sealed hotel room. He can’t get on his flight without ID. Nor can he book or pay for another hotel room.

(PHOTOSMarathon Carnage: Explosions in Boston)

Reunited with his girlfriend, Yohman spent the night at a friend’s room in Chinatown but they have no idea where they were going to stay on Tuesday night. They spent much of the day at a shelter set up by the Red Cross and the City of Boston where they found food and clothes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has told them they may be able to retrieve their possessions by Wednesday, if they’re lucky.

Yohman isn’t the only one who’s been affected by the bombings. The FBI has closed a 12-block radius around the blast scenes and deemed it a crime scene. All the businesses along one of Boston’s busiest streets are closed, as are many in the surrounding neighborhood, on what should have been one of the biggest tourism days of the year for the city. Five hotels, in addition to Yohman’s boutique hotel the Charlesmark, remained locked down, including the Mandarin and Lenox hotels. The Salvation Army has fed 1,450 people and hundreds are without rooms or can’t get into their homes. Authorities expect the area will remain sealed for at least another two days, if not longer. “We’re encouraging people to continue their lives like normal,” Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said at a press conference Tuesday morning. But it’s clear it will be days, if not weeks until that fully happens.

(MORE: The Boston Blasts and ‘Terrorism’: A Historian’s Take on What It Means)

Commuters in suits made their way to work Tuesday morning wide-eyed at the disaster around them. Many stopped to take pictures of the dozens of National Guard Humvees, emergency vehicles and fire trucks lining the streets. Most high-rise buildings in Back Bay remained closed Tuesday to help ease the city’s stretched emergency resources. Some residents in the sealed areas were allowed back in escorted by police as long as they could access their homes off Boylston Street. Aubrey Caswell, 20, a music student at Berklee College of Music nearby spent much of Tuesday trying to get into her apartment above Café Jaffa on the corner of Boylston and Gloucester, a block and a half from the second blast. “I need to get my medicine,” Caswell told a Boston cop at the corner of Newbury and Gloucester Streets, a block away from her home.

“Do you have ID or anything showing you’re from here?” he responded.

“No. My ID says I’m from California. I’m a student. Can I show you my key?”

“No,” replied the cop.

Eventually, he relented and took Caswell to her apartment, sternly warning her she’d have future problems if she decided to stay because they would need more evidence than just her keys to let her back in again. “We’re asking all residents who choose to stay to limit as much as possible how much the come and go,” he said, noting she’d need a police escort every time she goes in or out for at least the next two days.

(WATCH: Inside the Hunt for the Marathon Bomber)

Much of Newbury Street, Boston’s most famous shopping mecca, was closed Tuesday. Armani, Cartier, Brooks Brothers and Converse were shuttered. A handwritten sign on the glass doors of Victoria’s Secret, which straddles Newbury and Boylston about two blocks from the first blast site, read: “Store Closed Due To Explosions On Boylston. Please Leave Area.” But H&M, Anne Taylor, Coach, Banana Republic and Guess were open. “Boylston is a busy street,” says Senator Mo Cowan, a Massachusetts Democrat, “just closing it down for 24 hours has got to cost a lot of money. But the focus really hasn’t been there yet and we’re fortunate to have the strong support and patience of the business community.” Damages are expected to total well into the millions of dollars, though no request for federal aid has been submitted yet.

(PHOTOSThe Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Explosions)

The post-traumatic atmosphere brought many Bostonians together, who sought to help the marathon runners and the recovery effort. Girls on Newbury Street passed out white flowers to marathon runners – many wore jackets and medals – asking them to return for next year’s marathon. A Rabbi who’d been at the finish line on Monday offered the National Guard troops guarding the site some pastries, thanking them for their service. On the other side of Boylston, marathon organizers were giving out medals to anyone with a bib and a nearby Starbucks was serving free coffee and donuts to everyone on the street. “We just wanted to do our bit to help,” says Jerry Dugan, the Starbucks manager, who along with four of his employees, was volunteering his services for the day.

At the top of Boylston Street is the Boston Commons where hundreds of television media have gathered to anchor various shows. Across the street, mourners have begun to leave flowers, Boston marathon t-shirts and teddy bears as a tribute to those killed. A woman, Stephanie Sakowski, 30, stood crying, her friend Melissa McCreery, 47, comforting her. Sakowski, a customer service representative, came from Bellingham, Washington to cheer McCreery and two others on. She was directly across the street from the second blast and watched, horrified, as people fell, badly burned, before her eyes. “It’s just so overwhelming,” Sakowski says, looking down the street she’d fled in terror less than 24 hours before. “I mean, I’m glad my friends are okay, but I’m just in shock.” Even as the city slowly returns to normal, some scars will take much longer to heal.

WATCH: The Morning After the Boston Attack