In November 2015 I was at home when terror struck the city of Paris. It was horrible ... Next came the lockdown of Brussels. My employer asked us to work from home. Metro, train stations ... everything was closed. There were soldiers everywhere. Brussels was like a city under siege. Yet, we never felt that the terror was close by.
However, just over 48 hours ago, the terror became real. National security services had been expecting an attack, but they had no idea of when or where it would strike.
On Tuesday March 22nd I went to the office as usual. I left home at 6.20 a.m. and arrived at our office on the outskirts of Brussels little before 7. a.m. I had my usual breakfast from the office 'bar': a freshly made smoothie and a 'pain au chocolat' 'still warm from the oven, Mmmmm - yummy ... My colleagues started arriving one by one. The main subject of conversation was the stress we are all under due to a budget cut, resulting in not keeping temporary extra forces on for the next year. An ordinary day so far ...
Around 8.15 C. arrived and said that she had heard on the car radio that there had been two explosions at Brussels airport. Immediately all people present surfed to the websites of our national broadcasting company and newspapers. They all confirmed what C. had said. Then the first photos appeared on the internet and an hour later the news of a bomb explosion in the metro at Maalbeek station.
Although we were far from the scenes of terror, nobody was able to work, surfing the internet for the latest information, distracted by the constant noise of police and ambulance sirens that flashed by our office building. Everybody was longing to get home as fast as possible. However, people using public transport soon learnt that there were no buses, trams, metros or trains running. For those of us who come by car, we were instructed not to leave the building. The message was: You are safe inside. Don't go out!
Being a member of the marketing and communication department, I was drafted around 1 p.m. to prepare the 'crisis' communication to our clients (B2B) and end-users. There were newsletters to be written and posted on the extranet and internet. There was to be an update every hour. It all became very hectic and although we were never in any physical danger, adrenaline levels have never been higher!
By 4 p.m. we had sent out three messages informing our clients about our modus operandi for the next 48 hours. At 3 p.m. the news had come that we were allowed to go home, asking people with cars to organize a carpooling system for those who had come by public transport. I offered a ride to a colleague who lives in Limburg. It wouldn't take her home, but at least she would be out of Brussels and get a train from Leuven to her hometown.
I left shortly after 4 p.m. The roads were unusually empty but the few people on the road drove like crazy. You could feel the stress just by watching them clutching their steering wheel and taking unnecessary risks.
When I got home 30 minutes later, I was exhausted. The adrenaline had stopped working. I served myself a cool beer, sank into my couch and watched the horror on TV. Final toll (so far): 31 killed and over 250 injured, 17 of which are in critical condition.
A colleague of ours (I don't know him personally) was in the metro when the bomb exploded at Maalbeek. He is badly burned and is kept in an artificial coma. Although his life is not in danger, it is hard to live with these facts ...
P.S. Thank you all for your kind comments and emails. I'll get back to you later. Right now I just don't have the energy.