DURHAM, N.C. – The sisters from Tennessee sightseeing in London (search) had no idea if they had found the right subway line. But they had a pass to ride the "tube" all day, so Katie and Emily Benton figured they'd get to Tower of London eventually. Then the bomb went off.
"There was no fireball — it was just so not Hollywood," Kathleen "Katie" Benton, 21, remembers. "They really have no idea what a bomb is like."
Exploding only 10 feet to their right, the blast from the terrorist's bomb tore apart the subway car, flinging the Benton sisters to the floor in a haze of shattered glass, smoke and blood. The woman just one seat to their right was killed.
"I honestly thought I was going to die during the explosion," Emily Benton, 20, said. "Just the sensations that I was feeling — I thought I was on fire. I could feel my skin like peeling off. Just the fact that my eyes opened and I was alive was incredible."
In their first interview since the July 7 bombings in London that killed 56 people and injured some 700 others, the Benton sisters recounted to The Associated Press their memories of the blast, the days that followed and their resolve to recover. They're both bewildered by the attention their experience has garnered and thankful for the efforts of others assisting in their recovery.
"I'm still trying to adjust to this media thing," Katie Benton said. "People know who I am — it's just so really bizarre to me, honestly. It's bizarre to me to think that like Emily and I are a part of history now."
The sisters' trip to London was the culmination of a summer abroad for Katie Benton, who arrived in Kenya in early June to work with a group helping locals learn to protect their crops from wildlife. Emily Benton joined her sister the day before the attacks in London, and the pair planned to vacation for a week before returning to Tennessee.
On the morning of the bombings, Katie Benton said she remembers sitting with Londoners on their way to work. Everyone, it seemed, had a briefcase or a bag for a laptop, although there were a few families mixed in the crowd.
"Honestly, I was more focused on my coffee than if we were on the right train," she said. "I really was not looking around and like, 'Hmmm, that person looks like they're about to blow up a train.'"
After the bomb went off, Katie Benton remembers holding her sister as they sat on the floor in front of their seats on the darkened train.
"It was about 10 minutes of checking out Emily before I actually looked down and realized I was bleeding all over the place," she said. "Just intense pain. Just so incredibly deafening."
Emily Benton suffered the most severe injuries: broken bones and lost skin on her left foot and a fractured right hand. Katie Benton suffered shrapnel wounds in her right foot that exposed tendons and bones. Both suffered some hearing damage from the blast.
"My foot looks like it got attacked by a shark," Emily Benton said. "I don't know, I'm so happy to have my foot that I don't really mind. I have a nasty scar on my arm. It's like a souvenir, you know. Every time I look at that ... it's a part of your life."
Their mother flew to London — a reunion Emily Benton calls the most exciting moment of her life — and watched over their transfer to Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, where the sisters later underwent reconstructive surgery. In their silent hours at Duke, they refused to relive the blasts or be overwhelmed by the nightmarish memories. They don't watch TV news coverage about the attacks.
"It hasn't interested me at all to watch," Emily Benton said. "I was there and I know what happened and I don't really want to relive it again."
Their doctors say they are progressing well and both were scheduled to leave for their home in Knoxville on Friday. On Thursday, bombers again struck in London. Katie Benton, who said she has been strengthened by Britain's strong resolve after the initial bombings, said she prays their reaction to the most recent explosions is no different.
"It just seems so relentless and our heart really goes out to that city," she said. "It just kills me that somebody is that misled and that misinformed and could possibly think that that kind of senseless violence does anything positive whatsoever."
Both said they've yet to awaken with self-pity or hatred for the attackers. They see their wounds as "souvenirs" and believe the experience has only served to strengthen their Christian faith and their appreciation for what they have.
"There's no better way to fight terrorism than to turn what they meant for evil into good and the Lord is certainly capable of that," Katie Benton said.
Emily Benton said she expects questions of "why" will come eventually, but for now she believes a divine plan for their lives is unfolding.
"I just feel empowered and feel like God's prepared us, both of us, our whole lives for this day," she said. "And he has given us this opportunity I think to just reach out to others and to encourage others who are sick or hurt and just to make a stand against terrorism."
They'll return to Duke for more treatments in the following weeks, and both say they'll return to someday England to complete their trip. When back in London, Katie Benton said she won't hesitate to again venture into the Underground. Emily, meanwhile, said, "I don't think I'll ever ride a subway again."
For now, the sisters are focused on returning to college this fall and seeing their friends and family. Katie Benton is a rising senior at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she's studying veterinary medicine. Emily Benton planned to attend Pellissippi State Technical Community College, also in Knoxville, but expects to take online classes until she heals more.
"I count the days until I'll have everything back," she said.