Brussels eyewitness: ‘Belgium doesn’t deserve this’

Posted at 9:25 PM, Mar 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-22 21:25:55-04

Witnesses to the carnage Tuesday in Brussels endured scenes of panic, smoke and horrific injuries.

Travelers, commuters, European Union officials and baggage handlers alike were caught up in the deadly terrorist attacks.

Three explosions ripped through the Belgian capital of Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 killing dozens of people and wounding over 170 more, according to Belgian media. This is a picture released by Belgian Police of suspects in the Belgium attacks.

Three explosions ripped through the Belgian capital of Brussels on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 killing dozens of people and wounding over 170 more, according to Belgian media. This is a picture released by Belgian Police of suspects in the Belgium attacks.

Two explosions, including at least one suicide bomb, rocked Brussels Airport about 8 a.m. local time. An hour later, another blast hit a subway station in the heart of the Belgian capital. At least 30 people were killed in the attacks and 230 were wounded, a Belgian government representative told CNN.

ISIS claimed responsibility.

Pavel Ohal was standing with his wife and 2-year-old son at the Delta Air Lines check-in counter, on the way to a family vacation in Denver, when the world around him exploded.

Right after the blast, he worried most about finding their passports — which, in retrospect, was odd. He and his family were lucky to be alive.

Debris from the blast had landed on them. His son needed stitches to the head. Their ears were burning from the sound. And he was looking for the passports.

“I was holding them in my hand, and they just flew away,” he told CNN. “Strange thing to be occupied with, I guess. But I couldn’t think straight.”

Alphonse Lyoura, a baggage handler at the airport, described the moment of the attack to CNN affiliate BFMTV.

“I heard one shot,” Lyoura said. “After the shot, I heard someone speaking in Arabic. And as soon as he finished speaking in Arabic, I heard the explosion,” he said. “A huge, strong explosion.”

What he saw afterward was almost beyond description.

“There was a woman who couldn’t talk,” he said. “There was a man who had lost his two legs. There was a police officer with a mangled leg.

“It’s horrible; Belgium doesn’t deserve this.”

Smoke, panic, collapsing ceiling

Mary-Odile Lognard was checking in for a flight to Abu Dhabi when she heard the explosion about 20 yards away, she told BFMTV.

“Immediately, there was a lot of smoke and a movement of panic, people started running toward the exit.”

About 20 seconds later, there was a second blast — this time, closer.

“The ceiling over our head started to collapse, to fall,” she said. “Some people were wounded, and it was complete panic. Everyone ran out.”

Jef Versele, from the Belgian city of Ghent, was making his way to check in for a flight to Rome when he heard the explosion from the departure hall several floors below him.

The blast left 50 or 60 people injured and strewn across the floor. It blew out windows and collapsed ceiling panels.

Versele felt lucky to be alive.

“I think I have a guardian angel somewhere,” he said

Perhaps 10 minutes later, emergency services and security forces arrived and began tending to the casualties and evacuating people to the parking lot, where he was able to reach his car and leave the area.

“We cannot believe it, it was so insane,” he said. “You think, not in my backyard.”

Former NBA superstar Dikembe Mutombo was napping in a lounge when people started screaming. He awoke to the sight of panicked passengers running feeling the room. A woman was yelling, “We have to go! We have to go! A lot of people are bleeding downstairs.”

Mutombo ran with the crowd. It was upsetting, he said, to see women trying to push their children to safety.

“They were struggling,” he told CNN. “It was very crazy.”

Luggage trolleys used as stretchers

At the Sheraton Brussels Airport Hotel, directly opposite the terminal, Anthony Barrett had been attending a conference and was due to fly home to Britain.

About 8 a.m., he heard a loud noise that sounded like somebody moving furniture in the room above his.

“When I opened the curtains and looked out, I could see people fleeing the terminal building,” Barrett said.

He saw dozens of injured people carted out to ambulances on stretchers or luggage trolleys. Medics and security personnel swarmed over the scene.

“I can see a man carrying somebody who looks very injured,” Barrett told CNN as he watched the events unfold.

‘Noises that shouldn’t be there’

An hour later, another blast struck the subway station of Maelbeek, in central Brussels, near the European quarter, where much of the European Union is based.

Sander Verniers was on the subway, between stations, when he felt the blast.

“I think I was in the subway right behind the one that carried the bomb,” he told CNN.

“We all kind of felt a strong wind coming through the carriage, through the subway, and then we heard some noises that shouldn’t be there.”

The train braked, passengers opened the emergency exit and security forces evacuated them through smoke-filled subway tunnels.

Evan Lamos also was on the subway. He described on Twitter how he felt a blast of air and his ears popped immediately before the carriage stopped between stations.

He heard thudding in the distance before being evacuated from the carriage and walking with other passengers along the tracks to the station.

A spokesman for the fire department said the site of the blast was the worst carnage he had seen in almost 45 years as a emergency responder.

“It looked like war,” Pierre Meys told CNN. “It’s unbelievable. It’s really hard. It was the first time I see something so terrible.”

Many of the wounded were taken to the Thon Hotel EU, where medical teams set up a triage area in the lobby.

Hotel manager Hans Van der Biesen said employees were busy helping guests check out when they heard the rumble from the station, about 25 meters (27 yards) away.

Van der Biesen said the victims came flooding out of the station but, perhaps because they were in shock, they seemed “calm and disciplined.”

The hotel’s emergency response team gathered up first-aid kits, towels and water and treated the wounded until medics showed up. Emergency crews brought about 40 victims into the lobby to treat their injuries, Van der Biesen said.

Buildings shook

Serge Massart, a policy officer for the European Commission, was in a commission building when he, too, heard the blast.

“We all felt the building was shaking, a vibration,” he said.

Gavin Sheridan tweeted that there were emotional scenes around the Maelbeek station after the blast.

“A young lady walked passed me in tears,” he tweeted.

“One clearly distressed and angry commuter shouted at the hacks,” he said, referring to journalists, “‘You have no idea what’s down there. Bodies…’ before storming off.”

Danger ‘is getting close’

Richard Medic told CNN he arrived at Maelbeek station shortly after the attack to find it cordoned off, with emergency services at the scene.

“I think after the Paris attacks, we had been expecting that something like this would happen,” he said.

Medic said he had not changed his routine, although he had noticed a greater vigilance and increased security, given the heightened threat.

“I walk past the European Commission every day to take my daughter to day care,” he said. “We walk past soldiers with guns and heightened security and people checking badges a lot more than they used to — but I think most people go about their daily routine.”