LORNE COOK, AP
BRUSSELS (AP) — In the year since suicide bombings ripped through the Brussels airport and subway, those affected have found themselves fighting to be recognized as victims, battling for compensation, and dealing with insurance bureaucracy like seeking three price estimates for a prosthetic limb.
The attacks killed 32 people and wounded more than 300; a year on, some 900 people now count themselves as victims and are seeking compensation. They include family members of those killed and wounded and people traumatized by the events of that day.
"We feel like we have to get down on our knees, those of us who still have them, to say 'Help us,'" said Philippe Vansteenkiste, whose sister Fabienne was killed at Brussels Zaventem airport. He is now leading efforts to get the government to help people be recognized as victims and deal with inheritance tax fights and tangled insurance claims.
The attacks blamed on the Islamic State group hit during the morning peak travel period on March 22, 2016. A year on, those worst hit are dealing with things in very different ways. But for all of them, this March 22 will be another test, another day to survive.
Andre Pinto is a bus driver for the STIB transport service. He was taking the subway to replace a colleague when Khalid el-Bakraoui detonated an explosive-filled back pack just after 9 a.m. in Maelbeek station, in the car right next to his.
Dazed by ear damage, disoriented by smoke and dust, and suffering from a leg injury he would only feel once the initial shock wore off, Pinto pried open the train door. He won't describe what he saw, only what he did.
"I just ran. I heard just before leaving the depot that there was an explosion at Zaventem, two explosions. I said to myself there could be a second one so I just got out of there," said Pinto, thinking only of his pregnant wife and child.
At the airport about an hour earlier, Sebastien Bellin had the same idea. The former pro basketball player who lives in Battle Creek, Michigan, also ran when a blast brought the ceiling down in the departure hall. Only he ran for the boarding gates, convinced that those heading for the exits were going the wrong way, maybe into a second bomb. He was right about the bomb, but wrong about where it would be.
"I don't think that you ever fully recuperate from injuries like this," he said. A year on, after several operations on a smashed hip and severely damaged leg, Bellin wears a cast. The former Belgian national team player walks with a limp, but still stands tall in many ways.
"Part of rebuilding yourself is focusing on the positives, and the positive is that I have both my legs," he said. "I'm alive, and that's much better than a lot of other people and victims from March 22 can say."
Bellin has spent some of his basketball money to raise awareness about those worse off than he is.
He regularly flies between the United States and Belgium, sometimes to see doctors to fulfill insurance requirements, paying for tickets out of his own pocket.
"Every time I'm at the airport I go and stand right on the spot where I was," he said, "to collect myself, and to say this is where my second life started."