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More than 30 Harvard affiliates who were in Paris during Friday’s terrorist attacks, including several undergraduates traveling and studying abroad, were confirmed safe by Saturday, according to Harvard’s office of Global Support Services.
The events of Friday night—which included suicide bombings, coordinated shooting attacks, and a hostage situation—killed at least 129 people and wounded upwards of 300 others, according to official reports. Members of the Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which drew the world’s attention to Paris.
Several Harvard students were in the region during the time of the attacks, including James T.R. Loomos ’16, who said he stayed at a hostel about a mile away from the Bataclan music hall where 89 hostages were killed.
Loomos, who was in Paris for the weekend, said he was eating out around the time of the attacks and was not aware that they were happening until later that evening.
“Everything from there just started moving really fast,” Loomos said.
Claudia D. Oh ’17, who has been studying in Paris this semester, said she was traveling for the weekend in Brussels, Belgium when the attacks occurred and spent Friday night reaching out to her host family and friends who had stayed behind.
“Originally they had just said that there was a shooting that had occurred at a restaurant,” Oh said. “We didn’t realize how big the problem was until later in the night, when we realized hundreds of people were dead.”
Oh said she sensed a difference in the atmosphere when she arrived back in Paris.
“You could tell that everyone on the Metro was a little bit nervous,” Oh said. “Usually people on the Metro talk with their friends or read, but on Monday and [Tuesday] there was complete silence, and an aura of nervousness.”
Loomos was originally supposed to return to Cambridge on Sunday but moved his flight up by a day. He described the airport as a scene of chaos— with long lines, mobs, and major delays— and as the most stressful and “disheartening” traveling experience he has ever had.
“The reason I decided to leave early was because I was worried about not being able to get back to school on Monday,” Loomos said. He added that even though he arrived at the airport four hours before his flight, he would have missed his flight had the airline not held all their planes due to the situation.
Joseph D. Levy, Harvard’s director of global support services, said his office is responsible for providing Harvard affiliates abroad advice on how to cope in difficult situations like terrorist attacks and natural disasters. The office also maintains a University-wide travel database to account for affiliates abroad who register their trips.
In the case of the recent attacks, the Global Support Services staff made contact by email or phone with all of the affiliates in Paris who were enrolled in the travel registry, according to Stephen P. Taylor, the associate director for international safety and security. The staff also accounted for affiliates whose location was not in the registry or was reported incorrectly.
The Harvard affiliates in Paris were advised to seek shelter and avoid affected areas, Taylor said.
“We have the ability to be flexible and use our initiative,” Taylor said. “Fortunately we didn’t have anybody who needed immediate assistance, who was wounded—or worse.”
Loomos said the resident dean, house masters, and tutors of Winthrop House, where he lives, reached out to him after hearing about the attacks.
“That was reassuring for me, but also for my mom and my dad,” Loomos said. “It was cool that a school would look out for their students even when they are traveling abroad.”
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