Brussels came under attack Tuesday morning with apparent suicide bombs in its airport and a metro station during rush hour, killing at least 31 people, according to early reports.
TIME correspondent Charlotte McDonald-Gibson, who is based in Brussels, was in the airport when the attacks occurred. The following are her account of what happened and interviews with passengers near her:
I was waiting for the gate to open for my flight to Frankfurt when a member of the restaurant staff rushed over and said “everyone out, everyone out”. No one knew what was going on. We were hurried to the main gate area of the terminal. An announcement on the loudspeaker said “evacuate, evacuate, this is a general notice to evacuate the airport.” But no one did anything. There were no staff to tell anyone what to do. I overheard one staff member say “this has never happened before so we don’t know what to do.”
Then another announcement came over loudspeakers telling us to stay in Terminal A. We were locked in. About 30 minutes later they started the evacuation again, slowly down two staircases. It took about 45 minutes to get everyone out. We were taken to the cargo area where we waited for an hour. Some people were wrapped in airline blankets. DHL staff were handing out water. There was no information about what was going on. Babies were crying. Now we have been taken to a massive airline hanger to give our details.
Denise Brandt, from Arizona:
“We were in the departures lounge shopping area when we felt it and heard it. We were standing there, you feel it in your whole body. I was like ‘thats a bomb, lets go’. People were running, we were just standing there and I said ‘lets go!’.
We saw people running, and some people crying, so we knew it was a bomb. We found a quiet corner to go reflect in. It was very confusing, they don’t manage expectations very well. Don’t they rehearse these things? Don’t they plan for these things?
We were in Terminal B then we heard later when we were walking up to the Brussels Airlines counter where there was a second explosion. We only heard one“
Andrew Brandt, from Arizona:
“We felt like a wave, you feel it in your whole body, it is like you are in water and someone jumps in the water and you feel that wave. I’m former law enforcement, my wife lived in Afghanistan for years. We wanted to be away from the crowds. The airport staff have no idea what they are doing. They kept saying ‘evacuate’. We were telling airport agents what we felt, that it was an explosion, then they were like ‘what?’.
Then we heard ‘evacuate, evacuate’. Then they say ‘stay where you are’. Then “evacuate, evacuate”. But everyone is just standing around. They would not let me take my bag. They said you are not going on the tarmac with your bag. The security people had no idea what they were doing. Where the hell were we supposed to go?.“
Josh Balser, from U.S.:
“In Terminal B this guy came running down the hall. I was in the lounge and heard a rumbling so thought something had hit the airport. Then they told us to go to the end of the hallway and eventually some guy was screaming ‘we found guns and ammunition, everybody leave your bags and exit the airport.’ He was airport personnel.”
Colonel Chuck Helms, U.S. military.
“I’m U.S. military, I’m a medic, I was in 9/11. I was here en route to Kampala. So I embedded with a Belgian medic and we gave first aid to about 15 people. I was in Terminal T when the bomb went off. We moved here (outside the terminal). I saw the Belgian medic and because I’m a medic I said “can I assist” and he said “come with me”. We moved in to where the bombing area was and we were able to provide trauma and then we went outside and provided first aid here.
There was a lot of people trying to help, you had the police, you had the military, but there was glass everywhere, so most of the military had glass in their hands, they didn’t realise that they had injuries because they were trying to assist people. There were a lot of tourniquets, a lot of people had put on tourniquets. I didn’t see anyone I thought was a complete casualty, I didn’t see any deaths.”
Yassine Amrani, a homeless person who lives in the airport parking area:
“I was with my friends – boom, in one second, all the people were running away. I went inside and I saw everywhere dead people and fire. There were fire extinguishers and I was looking for people because the ceiling had fallen on the people and you had to search for the people. There were many deaths. People were dying in my arms. One woman had a baby in her arms and kept saying “my baby, my baby”. I said “you have your baby in your arms and he is fine.”
These interviews have been lightly edited for clarity