Bombs hit airport, subway
BRUSSELS – Belgian firefighters said at least 28 people had died and 166 injured after “enormous” blasts hit Brussels airport and the city’s metro system yesterday. Belgian media placed the death toll at 34 as of press time
Belgium’s federal prosecutor said the deadly explosions at the airport yesterday w
ere carried out by a suicide bomber, without giving more details.
There were also “around 10 killed at the Maalbeek metro station where there was an enormous explosion,” Meys said.
“Most of the wounded have been evacuated. The scene is rather chaotic,” he said.
The toll at the airport was “initial,” he stressed.
“A false ceiling collapsed with lots of rubble and so there could still be more victims,” Meys added.
Authorities locked down the Belgian capital with authorities raising its terror alert to its highest level, diverting arriving planes and trains and ordering people to stay where they were.
The explosions, which the Brussels prosecutor’s office called terror attacks, came just days after the main suspect in the November Paris attacks was arrested in Brussels. After his arrest, Salah Abdeslam told authorities he had created a new network and was planning new attacks.
At the Brussels airport, two explosions splattered blood across the departure lounge and collapsed the ceiling. Witnesses told the Associated Press that one occurred at an excess baggage payment counter and the other near a Starbucks cafe. All flights were canceled, arriving planes and trains were diverted and Belgium’s terror alert level was raised to its highest level. Authorities told people in Brussels to stay where they were, bringing the city to a standstill. Airport security was also tightened in Paris, London and other European cities.
European security officials have been bracing for a major attack for weeks, and warned that the Islamic State group was actively preparing to strike. Abdeslam’s arrest on Friday heightened those fears, as investigators said many more people were involved in the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris than originally thought, and that some are still on the loose.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for yesterday’s attacks.
Belgian media reported 21 people were killed at the airport. It was not clear whether any died in the metro explosion. Zach Mouzoun, who arrived on a flight from Geneva about 10 minutes before the first blast, told BFM television that the second, louder explosion brought down ceilings and ruptured pipes, mixing water with victims’ blood.
“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.
Near the entrance to the Maelbeek subway station, not far from the headquarters of the European Union, rescue workers set up a makeshift treatment center in a pub. Dazed and shocked morning travelers streamed from the metro entrances as police tried to set up a security cordon.
“The Metro was leaving Maelbeek station for Schuman when there was a really loud explosion,” said Alexandre Brans, 32, wiping blood from his face. “It was panic everywhere. There were a lot of people in the metro.”
Francoise Ledune, a spokeswoman for the Brussels Metro, said on BFM television that there appeared to have been just one explosion, in a car that was stopped at Maelbeek.
First responders ran through the street outside with two people on stretchers, their clothes badly torn.
The explosions at the airport hit at the middle of the busiest time there. Smoke was seen billowing out of the terminal.
Amateur video shown on France’s i-Tele television showed passengers, including a child running with a backpack, dashing out of the terminal in different directions as they tugged luggage. Another image showed a security officer patrolling inside a hall with blown-out paneling and what appeared to be ceiling insulation covering the floor.
Marc Noel, 63, was about to board a Delta flight to Atlanta, to return to his home in Raleigh, North Carolina.
A Belgian native, Noel says he was in an airport shop buying automobile magazines as the first explosion occurred about 50 yards away.
“People were crying, shouting, children. It was a horrible experience,” he told AP. He said his decision to buy the magazines might have saved his life. “I don’t want to think about it, but I would probably have been in that place when the bomb went off.”
With three runways in the shape of a “Z,” the airport connects Europe’s capital to 226 destinations around the world and handled nearly 23.5 million passengers in 2015.
Passengers were led onto the tarmac and the crisis center urged people not to come to the airport. – AFP, AP