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Norwalk grad shares details about Belgium explosions

Cary Ashby • Updated Mar 23, 2016 at 11:46 PM

Norwalk High School graduate Aaron Phillips shared details about the explosions Tuesday morning at the Brussels airport in Belgium.

“At the time of the explosions I was so far away from the center that I only noticed a large crowd moving down the terminal. Soon after we heard over the loudspeaker, ’Attention all passengers and staff, evacuate the building.’ The same message played again, whereby people near me took it more seriously (and were) nervous and confused,” said the 30-year-old Cleveland man.

“We started exiting through jetways onto the tarmac when the message changed again: ’All passengers and staff, remain in gates A and B.’ That message repeated again until the next phase of evacuating the entire airport,” Phillips told the Reflector.

Phillips and four other Cleveland-area residents were en route to the United States from Liberia, where they had been involved in a two-week mission trip. Their original flight was canceled Sunday. (NOTE: A story about Phillips’ efforts to find a flight home after the Brussels explosions is posted on this website.)

“Once we all moved outside … I started to notice actual injured persons with minor injuries,” Phillips said, referring to the people with lacerations and small puncture wounds as well as the “shock and fear and fleet after fleet after fleet of emergency vehicles” he saw.

“With most of us having missed the event, but furiously trying to catch up through news apps, we were very much confused and restless. After a few hours a school gymnasium was opened to provide refuge, refreshments and personnel to answer difficult customer questions,” Phillips said.

Three members of the mission trip to Liberia arranged another flight from Brussels. Phillips’ mother said they were in the air about 30 minutes when the explosion happened in a different area of the airport from her son and a woman named Paula.

“Having now seen the grave damage of the blasts during evacuation and the range of emotions in those who were immediately there really set the gravity of the attack. These events never seem real until you see it firsthand. The overwhelming sense of being lost just wiped through everyone,” Phillips said.

“What was deeply heart-warming to witness was scores of local Belgians rushing in to the shelters with water, food, coffee, tea, beer or advice in getting lodging for an undetermined time,” Phillips added.

“A local eye doctor picked me and a few others up to take us to the shelter. Another offered to arrange multiple taxis to come pick us up when public transit was shut down. One other angel spent three to four hours personally driving three of us to Leuven, making sure we had all details handled — even offering food and drink — while waiting with us when handling communication,” he added.

“Then we got a light-hearted tour of the beautiful city before she dropped us off secured in our arrangements, no longer lost. So many examples like that demonstrate society's capacity for empathy and radically selfless care.”

Phillips shared some final thoughts about violence in general and the proper response to terrorism.

“What angers me is that people just like you and me believe so fanatically that violence against innocent persons justifiably fulfills their dangerous ideology. I don't live in fear of these things, nor should we,” he said.

“To allow fear to govern our routines gives more power to those who wish to overturn what together this world seeks to build. Should we be watchful? Yes. We can't be so blind to believe that these things can't happen to us. What can we do? Be aware. Love others. And readily take care of our brothers and sisters when we suffer.”

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