The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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Brussels airport, metro station rocked by explosions, 34 dead; Maltese man among 198 hurt

Associated Press Tuesday, 22 March 2016, 08:30 Last update: about 9 years ago

Bombs exploded at the Brussels airport and one of the city's metro stations Tuesday, killing at least 34 people and wounding 198, as a European capital was again locked down amid heightened security threats.

The two airport blasts, at least one of which was blamed on a suicide bomber, left behind a chaotic scene of splattered blood in the departure lounge as windows were blown out, ceilings collapsed and travelers streamed out of the smoky building.

About an hour later, another bomb exploded on a rush-hour subway train near the European Union headquarters. Terrified passengers had to evacuate through darkened tunnels to safety.

Fourteen were killed at the airport, where 92 were injured; while another 14 were killed at the subway station, with 106 injured.

A third bomb deactivated at Brussels airport, officials say. Florence Muls, a spokeswoman for the Brussels Airport, says a third bomb has been neutralized at the airport after two other bombs killed at least 14 people there this morning.

Muls told The Associated Press the third bomb was dispensed of "with a controlled action" once the chaos of the first explosives had eased somewhat. Elsewhere in the Belgian capital, anti-bomb squads detonated suspicious objects in at least two locations — the Maelbeek subway station and close to Brussels University a few miles further away. Authorities said those two did not contain explosives.

One Maltese man has been injured in the airport explosion, but his injuries are believed to be slight. In a tweet, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that the injured person is an employee at Malta's Permanent Representation Office who was at the airport with his pregnant wife.

He is Lorenzo Vella, aged 35. After he was given first assistance at the airport, he has now been transferred to a military hospital for further treatment.

Maltese citizens who reside in Brussels told The Malta Independent that the situation in Brussels is scary and it is also difficult to communicate because the systems are down or jammed. They said that the metro station hit by the attacks is close to where many Maltese reside and the area is now closed.

The Malta Independent is informed that many Maltese who work in Brussels had already left the city over the past weekend to celebrate Easter with their families.

Many have taken to the social media to make contact with their families and tell them that they are safe and sound. Many of them said that they are devastated with the news and expressed their concern about the attacks.

The Maltese Foreign Minister has set up an emergency line for relatives of Maltese living in Bruseels to make contact. The numbers are: calling from Malta freephone 80072203, calling from abroad 00356 22042200.

The Prime Minister's envoy to Brussels, Cyrus Engerer, has written on Facebook that he was close to Brussels airport when the incident occurred. "We're next to Brussels Airport, cannot go in. We were travelling this morning with friends. Some of us have been evacuated out of the airport. Some others slightly injured still trapped inside."

In a statement, Air Malta said it regretted the events this morning in Brussels, Belgium.
 
On an exceptional basis, the airline said it is waiving re-booking fees for its customers booked to and from Brussels until Thursday 24 March. The airline is also offering passengers the possibility to change destination on these tickets.
 
The airline is closely monitoring the situation and will advise any changes to its flight schedule through its communication channels including website and social media.

"What we feared has happened," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters. "In this time of tragedy, this black moment for our country, I appeal to everyone to remain calm but also to show solidarity."

Belgium raised its terror alert to the highest level, diverting planes and trains and ordering people to stay where they were. Airports across Europe immediately tightened security.

European security officials have been bracing for a major attack for weeks, and warned that the Islamic State group was actively preparing to strike. The arrest Friday of a key suspect in the November attacks in Paris heightened those fears, as investigators said many more people were involved than originally thought, and that some are still on the loose.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday's attacks, and Michel said there was no immediate evidence linking key Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam to them. After his arrest Friday, Abdeslam told authorities he had created a new network and was planning new attacks.

"We are at war," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after a crisis meeting called by the French president. "We have been subjected for the last few months in Europe to acts of war."

Belgian media reported that 11 people were killed at the airport, where two explosions splattered blood across the departure lounge and collapsed the ceiling. The explosions hit during the busy morning rush. Smoke was seen billowing out of the terminal.

Anthony Deloos, an airport worker for Swissport, which handles check-in and baggage services, said the first explosion took place near the Swissport counters where customers pay for overweight baggage. He and a colleague said the second blast hit near the Starbucks cafe.

"We heard a big explosion. It's like when you're in a party and suddenly your hearing goes out, from like a big noise," Deloos said, adding that shredded paper floated through the air as a colleague told him to run.

"I jumped into a luggage chute to be safe," he said.

Tom De Doncker, 21, check-in agent intern, was near the site of the second explosion.

 

"I saw a soldier pulling away a body," he said. "It felt like I was hit too" from the concussion of the blast.

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 Brussels' Maelbeek subway station, not far from the headquarters of the European Union, rescue workers set up a makeshift medical treatment center in a pub. Dazed and shocked morning commuters 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 there appeared to have been just one explosion on the subway in a car that was stopped at Maelbeek. Spokesman Guy Sablon said 15 were killed and 55 injured in that attack.

At the airport, passengers fled as quickly as they could.

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 when the first explosion occurred 50 yards away.

Explosions reported at Brussels Airport. Malta Embassy in Brussels can be contacted on +32 (0)2 238 36 08.

Posted by Permanent Representation of Malta to the European Union on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

 

"People were crying, shouting, children. It was a horrible experience," he told AP. He said his decision to shop might have saved his life. "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. More than 200 flights to Brussels were diverted or canceled, according to flight tracking service Flightradar24

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.

In Paris, France's top security official said the country was immediately reinforcing security at airports, train stations and metros.

 

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