Scenes of terror

'It's war... Everything was destroyed'

The damaged facade of Brussels Airport, which was rocked by two blasts yesterday. An airport worker who helped to carry out some of the victims' bodies said their legs were shattered.
The damaged facade of Brussels Airport, which was rocked by two blasts yesterday. An airport worker who helped to carry out some of the victims' bodies said their legs were shattered.PHOTO: REUTERS

Witnesses tell of devastation, confusion at Brussels airport and metro station in the wake of explosions

BRUSSELS • The legs of some of those killed by a terror attack on the Brussels airport were shattered, as if the blast came from a piece of luggage nearby, said an airport worker who helped to carry their bodies.

At the Maelbeek metro station in central Brussels, hit by a separate explosion at about 9am yesterday, an hour later, a veteran firefighter described the scene as akin to a "war zone" and the worst that he had seen in his 40 years of service.

Mr Alphonse Youla, 40, who works at Zaventem airport luggage security, said that before the first bomb went off, he heard a man shouting something in Arabic.

"Then the tiled ceiling of the airport collapsed. I helped carry out five dead, with their legs destroyed, as if the bomb came from a piece of luggage," he told reporters, his hands covered in blood. "It's from the people I carried out."

One traveller, Ms Ilaria Ruggiano, said: "We heard a big noise and saw a big flash. My mother went to the floor - she was hit. I just dropped my luggage and went to the floor.

"A kid came out, bleeding a lot. I tried to help him with a tissue but it was not enough."

Hundreds of passengers who had not been injured were leaving the airport by a side exit, many in tears, some covered with blankets. Many were being evacuated by bus.

 

Passenger Paolo Saraca Volpini said an airport announcer's voice came over the public address system about a quarter of an hour after the blasts, his voice breaking with emotion, and said in several languages "we are experiencing an attack" and asking people in terminals A and B to stay where they were.

One passenger, who had already cleared the security checks when the bombs went off, said that after the explosions, passengers already inside the airport panicked and started running in search of shelter.

"People were taking cover in shops and where they could. We managed to get on the plane, but it did not take off and then we were escorted out to buses to leave," said Ms Sylwia Czerska, who was on her way to Geneva.

Witnesses said the first explosion took place close to a bank near the lifts in the left wing of the departures hall. The second was stronger and closer to the Starbucks cafe in the centre of the hall.

Meanwhile, in central Brussels, smoke poured out of the Maelbeek metro station, one stop from the main offices of the European Commission, after it was hit by a blast.

Journalist 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.

At least two seriously injured, soot-covered people were seen taken out on stretchers, and wailing passengers fled as police cordoned off the station.

Mr Pierre Meys, spokesman for the Brussels fire department, told Belgian newspaper Le Soir that the scene was like a war zone.

"The explosion was very strong. It hit the centre carriage of the train. It's war. It's indescribable. Everything was destroyed and in tatters. More than 70 people are injured and they are the injuries of war. I have 40 years of experience and this is the worst I have seen."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline ''It's war... Everything was destroyed''. Print Edition | Subscribe