By Shane Perusse and Alex Heck
Alexandra Pavliuc spent a tense day Tuesday, trying to reassure friends and family back home that she is OK after terror attacks shook Brussels, and wondering what the future holds for her as an exchange student living near the Belgian capital.
Pavliuc, a communications student, is one of at least two members of the Ryerson community with a close connection to the attacks that shook the European capital Tuesday.
Ghent, Belgium, where she is currently staying, is half an hour from Brussels, where 30 people were killed in a terrorist attack March 22.
At least 10 people were killed and 92 injured after the bombing at the Zaventem airport.
Twenty people were killed in the central metro station bombing that left more than 130 injured.
Police have since found and dismantled a third bomb at the airport. They have also conducted a raid in the northern suburb of the city, discovering a bomb filled with nails, chemicals and an Islamic State flag.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack, which came four days after police arrested Salah Abdeslam, who is accused of co-ordinating the Paris attacks.
“For a Torontonian living in Belgium, today has been a long and emotionally draining day,” Pavliuc wrote in an email.
Her school, Artevelde University College Ghent, was under lock-down for about 10 minutes.
In a Skype conversation Pavliuc said she saw warnings on the TV screens in the university about unattended bags. She has received countless messages from friends and family, wondering if she is OK.
“My first thought was to revert back to, ‘Brussels is far away, don’t worry about me,’ but that would be untrue. The idea of brushing today’s events off was quickly replaced with the memory of being in Brussels’ Zaventem airport twice last week, and the fact that Brussels’ central station is only 23 minutes away,” she said.
Pavliuc says she is shaken, but refuses to let it change her plans.
She says she will be more cautious while travelling and “keeping an eye out for anything that looks unusual.”
She will be sticking to her plans to fly to Spain from Brussels’ South Charleroi airport, 70 kilometres south of Brussels, and in mid-April, she plans on flying into Zaventem with her mother.
Gerda Cammaer, an associate professor of image arts at Ryerson also had a shocking start to her morning after hearing attacks in Belgium that targeted Brussels’ Zaventem airport and central metro station.
Cammaer was born in Belgium. Her two cousins work at the airport as a police agent and check-in clerk.
“I woke up this morning to find an email from my aunt telling the entire family that my two cousins who work at the national airport of Zaventem are OK,” Cammaer said. “I did not get it. Why this message?”
Cammaer immediately opened her browser, which is set to the home page of the Belgium national news station. It didn’t take long for her to grasp the gravity of the situation.
“Unfortunately, attacks like this do not come unexpected anymore,” Cammaer said. “It is still a shock, especially when it happens so close to home.”
Next Cammaer tried contacting her sister, who sometimes travels to Brussels for work, but was unable to reach her through email, phone or Skype for over an hour.
“That is when I got truly upset,” Cammaer said. “No matter how much I told myself that she is probably OK, I couldn’t stop myself from worrying.”
Cammaer’s sister called two hours later letting her know that she was safe.
“It was a huge relief,” Cammaer said. “I had a first-hand experience of what so many people go through on a regular basis, and what other people are going through now in Belgium, not with a happy ending.”