Arizona couple feel blast, witness aftermath of Brussels bombing

Mar 22, 2016, 8:45 AM | Updated: 8:40 pm
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LISTEN: Denise Brandt, Arizonan who was at Brussels airport during terror attack

PHOENIX — An Arizona couple managed to escape the bombs that tore through a Belgian airport and subway early Tuesday morning.

Andrew and Denise Brandt, who lived in Gilbert up until last year, were at the Brussels airport catching a flight home to Liberia when the explosions rocked part of Zaventem Airport.

“I describe it as a lion roaring,” Denise Brandt said in an exclusive interview with KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes. “When a lion roars, every hair on your body stands up.”

The couple, who married in the Valley last year and work for a health aid agency, Jhipego, said that the bomb blast felt like “a wave going through your body.”

At least 31 were killed in the blasts and 190 were injured. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying its extremists opened fire in the airport and “several of them” detonated suicide belts.

A third bomb was disabled by authorities.

Brandt, who taught at Arizona State University from 2013-2015, said the blast happened “too close” to them.

She said she learned what explosions felt like while living in Afghanistan for six years.

“It was very loud, but it’s also kind of muffled,” she said. “You could just feel this shockwave going through your body.”

Andrew Brandt told SkyNews he suspected immediately it was an attack. The couple were near a gift shop in a terminal that houses American Airlines.

Denise said Andrew wanted to run toward the explosions to help. He has worked in law enforcement.

Denise said she stopped Andrew because she was unsure if there was an active shooter or if the attackers had rigged a second bomb to kill first responders.

After the explosion, Denise said crowds of people began running in the direction she and her husband were walking. Though she was in a calmer part of the airport, she said there was a lot of confusion and others seemed oblivious to what was happening.

“I woke up a man who was sleeping, even after the calls for evacuation,” she said.

She said people were told to evacuate, but not told where they should go.

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.

Denise, who has flown through Brussels before, said she did not notice an unusual amount of security, despite European security officials bracing for an attack for weeks.

“We knew that it was on high alert, but I didn’t detect an increased presence at all,” she said.

While it took several hours for the magnitude of the situation to settle in, Denise said she felt safe in her hotel room. Officials put the city on lockdown as it searched for suspects.

“There’s no public transportation,” she said. “No one is moving around.”

While Denise has spent time in conflict areas, she said an attack is still a scary event.

“When you go to a conflict or post-conflict zone, you accept some amount of risk … but when you go to Brussels, or a Western European country, you don’t expect that.”

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

“We’re feeling very sad and very angry that this keeps happening,” Denise said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Arizona couple feel blast, witness aftermath of Brussels bombing