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Brussels Airport, Metro System Closed After Explosions


Looking at images out of Brussels, Belgium today, it is striking how familiar it all feels - the smoke rising over an airport terminal, people streaming out in orderly fashion, a woman weeping, a helicopter hovering overhead - an exceptional day, but part of a chain of similar events prompting the prime minister of neighboring France to repeat today, we are at war. In this case, we is not a country but a continent attacked now multiple times, including twice today in Brussels at an airport and at a metro station. We're going to talk about this, first with Gabrielle Steinhauser of The Wall Street Journal, who's been reporting near the airport today. What have you seen?

GABRIELLE STEINHAUSER: Well, I'm standing in the evacuation zone right now where, about an hour ago, hundreds of people were being led out more than four hours after the initial blast. When I first arrived here, I was let out at the motorway. And I was walking towards the airport, and I saw passengers sort of walking along the motorway, pulling their suitcases. People are telling - so sort of the way the story unfolds, as you said, around 8 a.m. there were two blasts in the departure hall. The second one was definitely an explosion. Some people are saying maybe maybe the first one was a gun shot. And then there was complete mayhem. Many people were injured. Authorities are confirming several dead as well, many injuries to the legs. People are saying they saw people with limbs blown off. So it's really a scene of total mayhem here.

INSKEEP: I appreciate you saying that people are not sure if these two explosions were, in fact, two explosions. It's a reminder how uncertain facts can be at the beginning. But let me ask you about things that we have heard. There have been descriptions of a possible suicide attack here. There have been other descriptions. What, if anything, have survivors told you about what they saw and what they experienced and how the attack took place?

STEINHAUSER: Well, one guy who was working in airport catering - that was about 30 meters away from the blast - and he said they were happening at the check-in counter for Brussels Airlines, which is really right near the entrance. And what I can see from here is that the glass front of the departure hall is blown out. And I saw many people who said that there was a lot of glass shattered, that parts of the ceiling fell down. There was a lot of water from pipes breaking. I saw some people who had head injuries, mostly from being hit by glass. There's some suggestions that perhaps because injuries are on the lower parts of the body, that it was maybe a piece of luggage that exploded. But I can't say that for sure yet.


Gabrielle stay on the line with us if you can. We want to turn to another voice here. Andrea Hauptmann is the owner of a restaurant in Brussels called Maxburg and is on the line with us. And Andrea, thank you for taking the time on what must be a very frightening morning. We know that there was an explosion at the airport. It sounds like one in a metro station in the city. How close are you to what has happened here?

ANDREA HAUPTMANN: We are about two minutes from both of the metro stations away. We are situated in the European community, directly next to - next to the metro stations.

GREENE: You say the European community. Is this where some of the European Union offices and places are...

HAUPTMANN: Yeah, the commission, yes.

GREENE: OK, and you say two metro stations. I know we've confirmed that one has been attacked, but you're saying that it sounds like a second may have been involved...

HAUPTMANN: The second one - it's not confirmed. It was just here in the local news that they said it was imposed. But there's - one is confirmed. And they said about 10 dead people. And so the other one is not confirmed.

GREENE: And just what are you seeing and experiencing this morning as this has all been happening?

HAUPTMANN: We didn't hear anything, just that they blocked all the streets. So it's about walking distance, two minutes away from us, from our restaurant. And then finally, we have the military and the police in the whole area. They blocked the whole area, so there's no way to enter this area by car. And yeah, so now the traffic is more or less, there's no traffic anymore for the moment. And the police and the military are in front of the houses, walking around, helping people who walk around to our block. They're also with their cars, so - and that's what we see in front of our house for the moment.

GREENE: Can I just ask, Ms. Hauptmann - because you describe soldiers on the streets, and this is a situation where there'd been heightened security in Brussels for days. The French prime minister says, we are at war. Do you feel like you're at war?

HAUPTMANN: Actually, yes. So it was - up to today, it was still - we had the whole thing in December already, that the military was always present. But now it is really close, in front of our door. It is like feeling - we are all scared, and we feel like being at war.

GREENE: And what is happening at your restaurant right now? Are you open? Is it a place where people are gathering?

HAUPTMANN: Yes, we are open. We are open. I have a sign in front of my door. We are open, even for coffee. Of course, there won't be clients anyway, maybe one or two, but that's it. People are scared to - even in the commission buildings. Most people are not at work, as it was early in the morning. So everybody stays - most of the people, they stay at home, as it was also on the radio that it's better staying at home, not leaving the houses. So it's scary.

INSKEEP: Let me bring Gabrielle Steinhauser of The Wall Street Journal back into the conversation. She is elsewhere in Brussels. She's outside the airport that also appears to have been struck. And Ms. Steinhauser, one thing that strikes me, looking at photographs of people streaming out of that building, is that people looked calm. Things looked orderly. Do people seem to be keeping their heads where you're at?

STEINHAUSER: Yes, absolutely. I mean, you have to keep in mind that this is a pretty large airport. And there were two explosions in a confined area in the departure hall, which is large, but it's only a small part of the overall airport. So the majority of the people who are coming out now, they didn't actually see much, you know? They were keeping - kept in a safe place until authorities could organize buses to bring them out. But I also spoke to some people who were very close to where the blast went off and who were visibly shocked. They saw a lot of horrible things, a lot of blood and a lot of very badly injured people.

GREENE: OK, we're following this very tense morning in Brussels, speaking to Gabrielle Steinhauser from The Wall Street Journal. Gabrielle, thanks very much. And also...

STEINHAUSER: You're welcome. Thank you.

GREENE: Andrea Hauptmann is the owner of restaurant called the Maxburg in Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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