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Moscow calm — before the storm

Despite the horrific suicide bombings that struck the center of Moscow this morning, a sense of eerie calm hung over the city. 

In the morning, I rushed to Park Kultury metro. It must've been about a half hour after the bomb there went off. In the streets, the only thing to alert you that something was off was that traffic was thinner than usual and the sound of sirens intermittently filled the air. 

At the station, people were still walking out of the metro each time a train came in. There were no harried looks, and there were even plenty of smiles. Many people milled about watching, many more just went on their way. It was all incredibly nonchalant. 

The hardest thing was getting information. Journalists were not allowed into the station, no police officers or riot police would talk. Every once in a while, Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for the General Prosecutor's Investigative Committee, would solemnly walk over to the reporters, feed us information with vague numbers and statements like "all versions are being investigated," before walking off again. 

At a nearby hospital, where 12 people with severe injuries had been taken, information was equally scarce. Hospital guards shooed reporters away, relatives (understandably) were loathe to speak, and the head doctor's assistant said he was busy all day and would have nothing to say. 

It's this lack of information that helps breed the conspiracy theories that are so rife. In the U.S., we're used to nonstop programming when the slightest (or largest) thing goes wrong. Here, state-run television ran its regular programming of soap operas, nature shows, variety shows and badly translated American films. 

After staking out the hospital for several hours, I returned to Park Kultury metro (it's a 15-minute walk from my house). I asked people exiting the metro if they were scared. Not one told me they were. "Lightning never strikes twice," several of them told me, forgetting, perhaps, that not one but two bombs went off today. 

Suicide bombings were a way of life in Moscow from 2002 to 2004. The metro, one of the world's busiest, was always an obvious target — always full of people and guarded by little more than teams of 18-year-old soldiers in uniforms that appear to date back to World War II. 

Sadly, many of us here were expecting an attack to happen soon — partly because Russia's been pretty quiet lately (and Russia is never quiet) and partly because the steady growth of suicide bombings in the North Caucasus prompted no real response from authorities. Now we're all wondering (and fearing) what the Kremlin's response will be. As the leadership's unpopularity grows in the midst of a continuing economic crisis, it can't appear to be soft on terror too.