Brussels airport ‘was a war scene’ with ‘total panic everywhere’

A victim receives first aid by rescuers, on March 22, 2016 near Maalbeek metro station in Brussels, after a blast at this station near the EU institutions caused deaths and injuries. (AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND)

Twin blasts at Brussel’s airport Tuesday left the dead and wounded lying in pools of blood as the ceiling caved in and panicked passengers fled the bombed-out departure hall.

At least 11 people were killed in the morning rush-hour attack, which the Belgian authorities quickly said was a suicide bombing. It was soon followed by another “enormous” blast, this time at a metro station close to the European Union buildings in the capital, which left around 10 dead.

“A man shouted a few words in Arabic and then I heard a huge blast,” said airport baggage security officer Alphonse Lyoura, who still had blood on his hands following the explosion.

He said there was second explosion at the airport about two minutes after the first.

“I helped at least six or seven wounded people. We took out some bodies that were not moving. It was total panic everywhere,” Lyoura said.

People run out of Brussels airport after twin explosions on March 22, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

People run out of Brussels airport after twin explosions on March 22, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

“I saw people lying on the ground covered in blood who were not moving.

“At least six or seven people’s legs were totally crushed. A lot of people lost limbs. One man had lost both legs and there was a policeman with a totally mangled leg.”

Jean-Pierre Lebeau, a French passenger who had just arrived from Geneva, said: “We heard the explosion and felt the blast.”

He said he had seen many wounded and “blood in the elevator.”

“First we were kept together by the police, then they gave us the order to evacuate,” he said, recounting the shock on people’s faces and a smell he though was like gunpowder at the scene.

People are evacuated from Brussels Airport, in Zaventem, on March 22, 2016 after twin blasts in its departure hall killed at least 11 people. (AFP/Belga/VIRGINIE LEFOUR)

People are evacuated from Brussels Airport, in Zaventem, on March 22, 2016 after twin blasts in its departure hall killed at least 11 people. (AFP/Belga/VIRGINIE LEFOUR)

Michel Mpoy, 65, who was at the airport to pick up a friend coming from Kinshasa, said it was “a total mess — it was terrible.”

An employee for the Swissport airport management company described how she looked after a child following the blasts.

“I heard the first explosion and I took a child in my arms and hid him under the counter. Then I gave him to a policeman,” the employee said without giving her name. “There were injured people lying everywhere and some weren’t moving.”

Local resident Jean-Pierre Herman said he was relieved to have gotten out of the airport safely.

Herman embraced his wife Tankrat Paui Tran, who he had just gone to pick up after her flight from Thailand.

“My wife just arrived,” Herman said. “I said ‘hello,’ we took the elevator and in the elevator we heard the first bomb.

“The second exploded just when we got off. We ran away to an emergency exit. I think we are very lucky.”

British journalist Charlotte McDonald-Gibson, who lives in Brussels, said there had been “total confusion” at the airport, where she was having breakfast before a flight.

“Suddenly staff rushed in and said we have to leave,” she said. “They rushed out and into the main terminal A departures building. Nobody knew what was going on.”

“It was total confusion, people were just standing around wondering what was happening.”

Passengers stand on the tarmac after they were evacuated from Brussels following twin blasts on March 22, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

Passengers stand on the tarmac after they were evacuated from Brussels following twin blasts on March 22, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

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,” he said.

“I knew it was an explosion because I’ve been around explosions before,” said American tourist Denise Brandt told Sky News.

“I felt the explosion, the way it feels through your body. And we just looked at each other and I said ‘Let’s go this way.’ It was over there. There was just this instinct to get away from it. Then we saw people running, crying, toward us. So I knew we were going in the right direction and away from it.”

Sirens wailing

At Maalbeek metro station, dazed and shocked morning travelers streamed from the entrances as police tried to set up a security cordon following what one official said was “an enormous explosion” that killed around 10 people.

Near the entrance to the station, not far from the EU headquarters, rescue workers set up a makeshift treatment center in a local pub.

AFP’s Lachlan Carmichael was on the metro and described how his train was halted in the tunnel and then evacuated as it began to fill up with smoke.

A police officer told him: “There are wounded, there are dead, I do not know how many.”

Smoke billows from a metro station in Maalbeek, Brussels after a blast at the site on March 22, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

Smoke billows from a metro station in Maalbeek, Brussels after a blast at the site on March 22, 2016 (screen capture: YouTube)

The officer was escorting a woman through a police cordon being put up around the Maalbeek station, with all public transport being closed down.

Another AFP journalist, Cedric Simon, said the situation around the Maalbeek station was totally confused, with a cloud of smoke and dust settling over the road outside.

Simon said there were about 15 people lying on the roadside, many with bloodied faces and being treated by medical staff as all Brussels hospitals were put on standby to deal with casualties.

The streets were filled with police cars and emergency vehicles, sirens wailing and blue lights flashing.

Metro blast survivor 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.”

A security perimeter has been set, on March 22, 2016 near Maalbeek metro station in Brussels, after a blast at this station near the EU institutions caused deaths and injuries. (AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND)

A security perimeter has been set, on March 22, 2016 near Maalbeek metro station in Brussels, after a blast at this station near the EU institutions caused deaths and injuries. (AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP / EMMANUEL DUNAND)

Following the attacks, authorities told people in Brussels to stay where they were, bringing the city to a standstill, citizens were also urged to stay inside and keep in touch through social media rather than go out in search of loved ones.

European security officials have been braced for a major attack for weeks, and warned that Islamic State was actively preparing. The arrest of Salah Abdeslam in Brussels last week heightened those fears, as investigators said many people involved in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 people were still on the loose.

After Abdeslam was arrested, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said authorities learned he had created a new network around him and had access to several weapons, though there was no immediate indication that he or the Islamic State group had any involvement in Tuesday’s attacks.

timesofisrael

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