I Am Brussels: A First-hand Story of the Attacks

Mar 27, 2016 · 3 min read
I Am Brussels. Je suis Bruxelles. Ik ben Brussel.

This is my personal story of having just landed at the Brussels National airport when a suicide bomb exploded on Tuesday, 22 March. A 40-minute audio interview with me and Jerry Springer is here, and a VRT video interview from the airport here. The following is a short recounting of my story, along with which I would like to express my heartfelt grief for the people whose losses are so much greater than mine, and a wish for continued vigilance on all our part in the work for peace.

The bomb at the Brussels airport went off above me just as I was heading through Customs. The baggage claim area shook, and debris, dust and smoke flew everywhere. Everyone ran for cover. It was chaos. I realized it was a bomb immediately and expected the worst — armed gunmen or even another bomb. I ran to the far end of the baggage claim area and frantically tried to find a fire escape or place to hide, with no success. It took a long time for anyone in authority to take control of the situation.

Eventually, we were shepherded en masse out the Customs exit and through the area where the bomb exploded. It was scary. There were broken water mains, damaged walls and ceilings, and an entire glass elevator bank that had been shattered by the blast — all through which we were forced to pass by the hundreds.

Outside the airport, there was blood on the ground and thousands of people milling around shell shocked and scared. Talking with my husband on the phone in one hand and dragging my luggage with the other, I started walking and just kept going. About half an hour later and a kilometer down the road away from the airport, my husband met up with me on foot and wearing a bright fluo emergency vest. He had been forced to leave our car on the highway and walked 2–3 kilometers along the airport access road to meet me.

As we made our way back to the car, dozens of emergency vehicles sped by and journalists rushed past us on foot heading toward the airport. One of them stopped and gave me a giant bear-hug that lasted several seconds. It only dawned on me later that I was probably the first person to safely leave the airport who was not in an ambulance. We talked with some journalists who told us there had been another bombing in a Brussels metro station near our house. We covered the last 50 meters quickly, stumbling along the highway shoulder, then got in our car and drove home.

A short time later, our eldest kids were dropped off by friends at home and then my husband went to collect our youngest from school. I only started to fully process the day’s events — feeling sad, grateful and still very much in shock — once we were all at home together. It had been six days since I had seen my family.

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