Newell Wright was there when two bombs exploded in the Brussels Airport on Tuesday morning.
“Several people had called it the Belgian 9/11,” said Wright, director of the North Dakota State Center for Global Initiatives and professor of marketing.
The terrorist attacks killed at least 30 and left 230 people wounded at press time.
Wright led a group of students to Europe with a departure flight back leaving from the airport. The students had already touched down in the U.S. when the bombs went off Tuesday morning.
The attacks “hit close to home” for public relations student Nikki Borstad. Her and Joe Herberg, a senior majoring in marketing, were on the trip with Wright.
She said it was “hard to believe something like that would happen”.
“I’d have to say my initial reaction was disbelief,” Herberg said. “I couldn’t believe that … it had occurred in a place where I had been only 24 hours before.”
Robbie Darling, an architecture graduate student studying abroad in Brussels, said he was shocked the terrorism threat followed through in Belgium, and so close to where he and others are staying.
“People have often joked while I traveled about how Brussels is a hub for terrorism, but now it really means something serious and hits close to home,” Darling said.
Darling said following the attacks the city immediately shut down all public transit, reinforcing that everyone should stay home.
“When we left, it was immediately evident how quiet it was. It was the quietest I have ever heard the city,” Darling said. “The whole place had a somber mood about it. People were still driving and walking places, but more soberly and in fewer numbers.”
He added he lives about a 20-minute walk away from the metro station that was bombed.
“It’s disconcerting how close we lived to a terrorist attack,” Darling said.
Borstad said the area was on high alert.
While in Belgium, students saw military and police officers everywhere, noting security was heightened due to the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in the Paris attacks, that happened four days prior in Brussels.
“Honestly, I was kind of blindsided by it … it was kind of a reality check,” Borstad said.
She also said NDSU followed up with her to ensure that everyone she was traveling with knew she and others were safe.
Borstad, Wright and the rest of their group made it home safe Monday, whereas Wright had stayed one extra day to wrap up the trip with foreign counterparts to NDSU.
At press time, Wright was safe in the city of Antwerp, Belgium, and has a flight home from an Amsterdam airport Thursday.
Wright began his day leaving his hotel in Antwerp about 6 a.m. Tuesday, local time.
He got to the Brussels Airport and was through security by about 7:30 a.m.
Near 8 a.m, he felt the building jolt. Seconds later, he felt it again.
As Wright did not hear any explosions, he thought the airport was experiencing an earthquake.
A few minutes later, officials began evacuating the concourse, with Wright exiting to venture onto the tarmac of the airport.
Wright and others remained on the concourse for 45 minutes until they were taken to another location by bus, and then to another location 45 minutes after.
While moving from location to location, Wright said that nobody he was traveling with had any idea of what was going on, and that he had to look on his phone for more information.
An hour after the initial explosion happened, Wright learned the event was a terrorist attack.
After being kept by airport officials, Wright asked a police officer if he was free to leave. From there, he walked to Zaventem, a small town two miles away from the airport, where he took a train to Lueven, Belgium, and continued back to Antwerp.
Wright suspected that most people were still stuck at the airport.
Of the 500,000 residents in Antwerp, Wright said few were outside following the attacks.
Wright said he thinks the attacks today were retaliation for arresting Abdeslam.
He said he was saddened by what happened today, but was very impressed with how kind the Belgians were.
Study Abroad safety policy
Alicia Kauffman, director of the office for international student and study abroad services, said NDSU has records of where students are and that students can be located “pretty quickly” when needed.
How students are located, though, is dependent on the type of study abroad trip.
NDSU affiliate programs email NDSU if students are in a potential danger, whereas faculty-led programs contact the faculty member to stay up to date on students’ safety. Exchange program students in a handful of different countries have offices like the study abroad office to reach out to in the event something tragic were to happen.
Kauffman also said students purchase travel and health insurance before studying abroad.
This way, if students need to be evacuated for medical reasons or the location is too dangerous, the insurance covers it.
There are state department resources that the study abroad office looks at before students travel abroad too, Kauffman said.
In regard to the Brussels attacks, an email was sent to all study abroad students in Europe to inform them students in Belgium were safe.