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Loved ones bring search into streets

LONDON -- As he wheeled through the streets on his bicycle, frantically searching for his missing brother-in-law, John Steadman kept wondering how he was going to break the news to his 4-year-old daughter, Jasmine.

Jasmine adores her uncle, Philip Russell, but he is nowhere to be found, she has no way of understanding, and John Steadman has no way of explaining to a little girl what this is all about.

Russell, 28, who works at J.P. Morgan, is just one of those missing after Thursday's bomb attacks. Information about the dead and the injured has been slow in coming, and authorities have not given specific numbers of those unaccounted for.

More than 50 people were killed, and more than 700 injured, with about 100 still hospitalized, according to police. At least 22 of them are seriously or critically injured, and it is unclear how many have been identified.

An emergency phone line set up by the government had fielded more than 100,000 calls in just 24 hours as friends and relatives of the missing sought information about their loved ones. But some Londoners yesterday described a confused, arbitrary system of notification that left them taking matters into their own hands.

People desperate for information streamed to hospitals, police stations, and fire stations and enlisted the media in trying to track down the dead and the missing. They handed out fliers and taped photocopies to fence railings. Bouquets of fresh flowers, along with poignant hand-written notes for the dead and missing, piled up outside the Underground stations where the terrorists struck.

While smaller in numbers, the London scenes were reminiscent of lower Manhattan in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Like many others, Steadman grabbed a photograph -- showing Russell opening presents with Steadman's daughters -- and headed for the hospitals.

''As far as we know, he got out of Euston Station at 9:30 Thursday morning. He was evacuated," Steadman said outside Royal London Hospital. ''He called the office and said he'd catch a bus. And that's the last we heard."

Relatives fear that he may have boarded the bus that blew up at Tavistock Square at 9:47 a.m.

Steadman, 39, acknowledged his search was hardly efficient. ''I couldn't just sit at home and wait," he said.

Neither could Gous Ali, who stood not far from the cordoned-off street in the Bloomsbury section where the wreckage of the No. 30 double-decker bus lay ripped open. Ali, 33, had a photo of his girlfriend, Neetu Jain, a 36-year-old computer analyst who called him on a cellphone to say she was getting on a bus at Tavistock.

There were some happy endings. Sarah Jones, sleepless and red-eyed in the morning as she handed out fliers showing her friend Martine Wright, 32, was bright-eyed and elated in the afternoon after learning that Wright had been found, badly injured but very much alive, in a hospital.

Queen Elizabeth II visited some of the injured. So did her son, Prince Charles, and his new wife, Camilla. Their visits were widely publicized, the modern-day equivalent of the queen's mother meeting with defiant East Enders who faced down Nazi bombers during the Blitz in World War II. But for all the smiles that greeted the royals, frustration was growing on the streets outside.

Of all the groups enlisting the media in their desperate search for loved ones, none struck a more poignant chord than the Islams, a Muslim family from East London. Shahara Islam, a 20-year-old bank worker, has not been heard from since the attacks. Her uncle, Dr. Kamrul Hasan, said she carried two cellphones and would have called her family if she was able. Her relatives said they fear the worst, but just want to find her.

Her father, Shamsul Islam, choked back tears and asked people to pray for her. Her elderly grandfather tried to make a televised appeal but couldn't.

Her uncle was composed, but no less frustrated as he showed the photo of a beautiful young woman with dark hair. ''This is so hard," he said.

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