March 23, 2016 / 3:26 PM / 4 years ago

Fear and defiance in Brussels a day after attacks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Brussels resident Aurelie Cardon says she will avoid taking the metro from now on. Or maybe move abroad.

A man reacts at a street memorial following Tuesday's bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium, March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Her eardrums were perforated when a bomb exploded in the metro carriage next to hers on Tuesday and doctors had to pull a piece of burned plastic out of the corner of her eye.

“There will be other attacks, so I want to find a way not to take this (metro) line anymore. Maybe I’ll buy a bike or a motorcycle,” she told Reuters from hospital, using Facebook because she cannot hear.

A day after 31 people were killed and 260 injured in attacks on the Maelbeek underground railway station and the Zaventem airport, the mood was a mixture of shock and defiance in the eerily quiet city of 1.2 million people, headquarters to the European Union and NATO.

“What happened yesterday was really horrible. As a citizen of Brussels, it really hurts to experience something like this ... But we are not going to let our lives be dictated by the terrorists,” said Linda van den Bosche, who lives in an apartment next to the Maelbeek station.

Across the city, people laid flowers and candles at memorials. During a minute of silence, one man held a copy of a newspaper front page reading “Hang in there!”

On the unusually quiet Grand Place in the city center, British visitors Darren Smith, 45, and Anne Stocks, 46, said they would carry on with their trip as planned.

“We were due to stay until Friday and we’ll stay until Friday,” Stocks said. “You just have to carry on, what happened is really horrible but you can’t just stay indoors because you worry it could happen again.”


But there were worries about the impact on local businesses. In the middle of the cobbled square, horse-drawn carriage driver Thibault Dantine, 46, said trade was slow.

“There would usually be much more people,” he said. “I’m very worried for the future, I’m afraid tourists won’t come back,” he said, a Belgian flag flying from his carriage.

Dantine said the tourism sector in Brussels had only just begun to recover from a tough winter following a five-day security lockdown in November, when Brussels feared an attack similar to the assault that killed 130 people in Paris.

Authorities in the Belgian capital struck a more defiant note on Wednesday, acknowledging that closing shops, schools and public services last year had frustrated residents.

“It’s important to draw lessons from the lockdown in November. It’s no longer an option today when we want to show that the state is stronger than events ... Brussels continues to function,” said the head of the Brussels regional government, Rudi Vervoort.

Some residents agreed, but said authorities needed to do more. “It’s right we are not in lockdown again. That clearly didn’t solve anything,” said Jean Vermeren, an instructor at a local swimming pool that was open as normal. “What we need is more intelligence. Belgium can’t be a black hole anymore.”

Additional reporting by Temis Tormo; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Giles Elgood

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