A Wexford woman living in Brussels was only moments away from the devastating bombings in Maalbeek metro station as she made her daily commute to work last Tuesday.
Sarah Cooke O’Dowd from Glenville Road, Wexford left her home on the outskirts of the city at 9 a.m. just before news of the terrorist attacks broke. However, in what could only be described as an incredible moment of luck, she was running late for work that day.
‘Yesterday morning I was trying to get in on time but because I had a meeting, I went back to change my shirt. Then some of my friends started messaging me asking was I okay so that held me up a bit,’ she explained.
Unaware of what was taking place further down along her metro line, Sarah walked to her station and headed to work in the city. After four stops, the train came to a halt and everyone was asked to evacuate.
‘They didn’t give us any explanation. My friends were on Whatsapp telling me that there had been explosions at the airport,’ she said. ‘When we left, the police were outside and told everyone to move on. In the beginning I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know if it was a terrorist attack or not. It was very confusing.’
‘I started walking to the next station and then one of my colleagues rang me. She was closer to where the bombing took place and was very stressed and very panicked. We both started crying. She just said, “Sarah go home”‘.
Sarah was relieved to find that everyone she knew was safe after the attacks.
‘They were telling us not to be using telephones but of course, everyone was on Facebook right away. I was glad to see that nobody I knew had been hurt.’
With the metro service brought to a halt following the attacks last week, Sarah was forced to work from home for several days. Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, she said she hadn’t left her house since the attacks.
‘I haven’t been into town since yesterday so I don’t know what the mood is like in there at the moment. But from what I could see from people yesterday, they were very shocked and surprised,’ she said. ‘There has been an outpouring of solidarity and unity since it happened. When people couldn’t leave their offices to go to lunch, people put their stuff together. I know in my work they were trying to figure out how to get people who lived far away home.’
‘Everyone wants to show that we will face it together.’
Although she doesn’t believe that the problems in Brussels are over, Sarah said that she hopes the authorities begin to ‘get their act together’.
‘The problem has been going on for a long time and was never tackled very well. The Belgium system is very complicated with different communes and areas so a lot of information probably fell through the cracks and it was easy for people to get away with things.’
As an employee with Equinet – European Network of Equality Bodies, Sarah works to counteract discrimination on a range of grounds, including religion and ethnicity. She feels that any racial hatred against Muslim people in the aftermath of these attacks is ‘very unfair’.
‘I think people who have a certain message to send about closing borders will use this [the attacks] as an excuse. Muslim people are very peaceful and wouldn’t hurt a fly. It certainly isn’t their fault and it’s very unfair to point the finger. They are being used as scapegoats,’ she said.
‘The people behind these attacks want to create fear. But to stop living life is giving in. Belgian’s are very fun-loving people and I don’t think they are going to give that up.’
(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/news/wexford-woman-was-moments-away-from-bomb-blasts-34581962.html)