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'It's like war': Brussels witnesses describe terror strike

March 22, 2016 23:33 IST
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As Brussels reels from a series of explosions have killed at least 34 people and wounded many more witnesses describe the scenes at Zaventem airport and Maelbeek metro station.

Belgian officials say the casualty toll from three explosions in the capital on Tuesday morning is 31 dead and dozens injured.

IMAGE: People gather around a memorial in Brussels following bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Charles Platiaue/ Reuters

The two airport blasts, at least one of which was blamed on a suicide bomber, left behind a chaotic scene of splattered blood in the departure lounge as windows were blown out, ceilings collapsed and travellers streamed out of the smoky building.

Anthony Deloos, an employee of services company Swissport, said the first explosion took place near a counter where customers pay for overweight baggage. He and colleague said second blast was near the Starbucks.

“Twenty meters (yards) from us we heard a big explosion,” and shredded paper was flying through the air, Deloos said. He first thought a billboard had fallen down, but a colleague told him to run.

“I jumped into a luggage chute to be safe,” he said.

Zach Mouzoun, who arrived on a flight from Geneva about 10 minutes before the first blast, told BFM television that the second, louder explosion brought down ceilings and ruptured pipes, mixing water with victims' blood.

"It was atrocious. The ceilings collapsed," he said.

"There was blood everywhere, injured people, bags everywhere.

"We were walking in the debris. It was a war scene."

"I could feel the building move. There was also dust and smoke as well ... I went towards where the explosion came from and there were people coming out looking very dazed and shocked."

IMAGE: Belgian flags fly at half-mast following bomb attacks s in Brussels, . Photograph: Charles Platiaue/ Reuters

Ralph Usbeck, 55, an electronics technician from Berlin, was checking in his baggage for an American Airlines flight to Florida when the first blast struck.

“I assumed it was training, but some litter was in the air, so I was not sure if it was a terrorist act,” he said.

“Seconds later, a much more heavy, heavy detonation happened, some more distance (away) but much more heavy. This was the moment I realized this was a terrorist act.

“The first detonation, very few people got panic(ked). The others didn’t realize what happened, or they looked around. But the second explosion was much more heavy -- panic, crying and everywhere this dirty dust, like from concrete.”

Outside, he saw several injured people, including “a man who had injuries on his leg and his hair was partly burned and partly some white dust in his hair.”

“It took a very, very long time till the ambulances came,” Usbeck said. “Maybe half an hour.”

“Everything is destroyed, in pieces”

Zach Mouzoun, who arrived on a flight from Geneva about 10 minutes before the first blast, told France’s BFM television that the second louder explosion brought down ceilings and ruptured pipes, mixing water with blood from victims.

“It was atrocious. The ceilings collapsed,” he said. “There was blood everywhere, injured people, bags everywhere.”

“We were walking in the debris. It was a war scene.”

IMAGE: People gather around a memorial in Brussels following bomb attacks s in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Charles Platiaue/ Reuters

About an hour later, another bomb exploded on a rush-hour subway train at the Maalbeek metro station near the European Union headquarters. Terrified passengers had to evacuate through darkened tunnels to safety.

A firefighters’ spokesperson described the blast near the Maelbeek metro station: “The explosion was very violent. Apparently, it took place in the (car) in the middle of the train…. It’s war. It’s indescribable. Very difficult. Everything is destroyed, in pieces. There’s at least seventy injured. The injuries are like those from a war. I’ve got more than 40 years on the job, this is the worst thing I’ve seen.”

“I saw a huge plume of white smoke which followed the explosion with people running away,” one woman said of the explosion inside a terminal building at the Brussels airport.

“People were just looking at each other like this, the check-in staff were looking at them. And immediately after, 15 or 30 seconds after, there was a second blast, much closer. Debris from the ceiling was raining down on passengers, and then people started panicking.”

Alexandre Brans, 32, who was wiping blood from his face, said: "The metro was leaving Maalbeek station when there was a really loud explosion. It was panic everywhere. There were a lot of people in the metro."

Ian McCafferty, who was at the next station Arts Loi, said: "I was getting off at the metro station at Loi when we heard a muffled thud and a lot of debris was thrown up." 

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