Manchester Ariana Grande Concert Survivor Describes Explosion: 'There Was White Smoke And a Bright Orange Light'

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The scene outside the Manchester Arena on May 22, 2017.  

On May 22, 10:33 p.m. local time, a suicide bomber outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester detonated a bomb that claimed 22 lives and injured nearly 60 others. The casualties include an eight-year-old girl and several parents waiting to pick up their kids after the show.

In the days following the attack, Billboard has spoken to several survivors. Below, 19-year-old Jade Steel shares her account of the explosion and her escape.

I booked the tickets a few months ago to celebrate the end of my first year university exams. I was really excited and looking forward to the night. I was seated in Block 106, which is directly next to where the bomb went off. And my mum was in Block 113 - a few blocks away but on the same side of the arena. It was a lovely night. Everyone was enjoying themselves.

When the concert finished after Ariana played "Dangerous Woman," everyone was so happy and excited. I walked up the steps, came out into the concourse where all the merchandise is and saw my mum waiting for me. We were going to leave through Victoria station, but my said why don’t we go and look at the merchandise away from the [foyer entrance where the bomber was waiting].

We walked over go to the counter, about 20 to 30 feet away and there was a huge, huge explosion. The only way I can describe it is like on a construction site when you hear the crash of metal. It was the most harrowing bang you’ve ever heard in your life. There was white smoke and a bright orange light. Then there was silence for a second and then everyone started screaming. The whole arena was shaking and everyone started running towards the exits. I said, "Mum, we’ve got to go." We started running. I turned around and there was a girl of around 14 absolutely covered in blood. That’s when I knew that it serious. Up till then people had said it was electrical fault or had been a balloon exploding.

I thought I was going to get shot in the back as we ran. I honestly thought I was going to die. I got to the exit and there was people everywhere. Everyone was pushing to get out. We managed to get through and as you came out there was a sea of people everywhere. I saw loads of police cars. The emergency services were unbelievable. They all got there so quickly.

We carried on running and we were shaking. I was crying. I felt like I was having a panic attack coming out, I didn’t have a clue what was happening. We walked into town into Piccadilly Gardens and got a tram back to our hotel.  

At that point, it didn’t even cross my mind that people had died. When I think to how close I was to the bomb – around 25-30 feet away I can’t believe how lucky I am to have escaped with no physical injuries. Especially when you hear it was a nail bomb. I just can’t get my head around it. It was so close. You could smell burning in the air. I don’t want to think about whether it was flesh or not.

It still hasn’t sunk in what happened. It’s horrific. I have no words for it. I’ve spoken to my friends who were at the gig and we're all shaken. We look back on our videos and pictures and everyone is singing and you can hear all the children’s voices, genuinely having the best time. To now think that those voices on our videos we don’t even know if they’re alive. There was a little girl in front of me with her mum and dad I can’t help but think where they are now? Are they safe?

-- Jade Steel