herald

Friday 15 December 2017

'There's a bomb... you have to run' - Irish recall chaos

Rescue workers tend to people injured in the Maelbeek Metro Station blast (Reuters)
Rescue workers tend to people injured in the Maelbeek Metro Station blast (Reuters)
Zaventam Airport after the explosion (PA)

Irish citizens living in the Belgian capital have recalled the fear and panic that ensued as bombs went off at two busy transport hubs.

Two explosions, detonated by what authorities have described as suicide bombers, claimed the lives of at least 14 people at a Brussels airport.

A second explosion an hour later left at least 20 people dead at a metro station, near what has been described as "the unofficial Irish quarter" of the city.

Galway student Luke Mac an Bhaird (22) was waiting to board a flight back to Ireland in Zaventam Airport when the first explosion occurred shortly after 8am.

"It was just a terrifying experience. I was at my gate and I was only there maybe five or 10 minutes and people were sprinting past me, shouting 'There's a bomb, there's a bomb, you've got to run, you've got to run'. It was so surreal," Luke told the Herald.

"I got up quickly and started moving with the crowd. We were at gate two at the time and had to go up to gate 50, but there was a lot of confusion, then and people were shouting that we had to go back.

"We were at the tunnel that leads out to the runway and people started shouting and telling everyone to run again," he added.

Shortly after 9am, a second explosion ripped through the busy metro station at Maelbeek, which is used by MEPs to access the European Parliament building.

Paschal Koenig, who works in an office building adjacent to the station, described the "shockwaves" that followed the blast before seeing emergency services bringing bodies from the metro stop.

"I arrived into the office at around 8.55am. My colleague came in for around 9.08am ...and what followed was like a shockwave through the window a few seconds later.

"The bomb had just went off and the next thing there were ambulances and special forces everywhere," Mr Koenig said.

"They were searching ambulances and cars responding to the explosion to check if there were any guns or more explosives on board, and also for weapons.

"Out the window I could see police and medics arriving at the scene and then people and bodies being carried out to a hotel on the other side of the street, which was turned into a make-shift hospital," Mr Koenig told the Herald.

Publican Seamus Carty, who has lived in Brussels for over 12 years, said the city has been left "paralysed" by the terror attack, but added that the Belgian people are "resilient".

"With the experience of Paris, I was pretty sure after the airport there was a strong possibility of more bombs going off, we knew there would be something more happening quickly.

Resilience

"We went into lockdown in November and the city was only beginning to return to normal, the alert level was lowered - we even had our busiest St Patrick's Day in 12 years last week.

"Things were looking good again for the city and now that's all changed," Mr Carty told the Herald.

"The people in Brussels have a great resilience, even with the Paris suspects on the run everything was getting back to normal.

"The city is just paralysed by this. There is also a lot of anger in people living here," Mr Carty said.

"Hopefully we can get back to normal soon. The big difference is that during the last lockdown, nothing actually happened, we'd hope it would continue like that and the people didn't think they would attack Brussels.

"Maybe that all changed when they caught the Paris attacker."

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