Backpacker Witnesses 2016 Attacks on Brussels

Re-living the horror of being present in Belgium during the terrorism.

Photo by Alex Vasey on Unsplash

** Republished from 2016 **

We hear about terrorism and our hearts always break for victims and their families, but nothing compares to living in the affected area during the moment of the attacks. That’s where I was on March 22, 2016, when terrorists bombed Brussels’ airport and surrounding metro stations.

I was living in Ghent, Belgium, which is about a twenty-five-minute train ride away from the heart of Brussels. It was a wacky day. I woke up and first heard the news of the attacks over the internet from a friend thousands of miles away. I immediately searched the internet for details of the attacks. I immediately alerted my host at breakfast. She had a daughter working in Brussels that afternoon. At the moment I found out, little details were known of the attack. Two explosions in an unusual part of the airport. My first assumption, along with many others, was terrorism.

It was not until later when a surrounding metro station was bombed when the threat level got rotated all the way up. Suddenly, emergency vehicles could be heard for at least half an hour straight; I assume the city had to start using neighboring cities for treatment in hospitals to those that were not urgent. It had a feeling eerily similar to the morning of September 11, 2001.

Everyone was still uncertain of whom committed the acts of terror, but there were strong suspicions it was to revenge the capture of one of the Paris attackers just three days earlier. There was panic. Specifically, people could not reach loved ones because the phone networks were jammed.

Throughout the day, as we learned more, we learned the whole city was shut down. No one was allowed in or out of the capital city. Public transportation was not in operation. I had friends from Ghent who were trapped at work in Brussels until the late evening.

When they finally returned home, I heard horror stories of what they had heard and experienced. There’s a certain realness of a situation you gain from being near it. It was a day that I wish I never had to live through, but I view it as very important to me so that I can truly see the realness of acts of terror like these. I was able to see the emotion of those affected that day. I was able to feel the anger of the unfairness.

Brussels was hit that day. I was in the same metro station that was hit not even a few days before the horror-struck. It could have been me. I consider myself fortunate to be able to experience an event like that from a safe distance, and my thoughts are with anyone still being affected by that day on a daily basis.

This is a more serious blog than I normally get into. But I feel when travel puts me into situations like that, I must write something about it. I left Belgium only the morning after the attacks.

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