A San Francisco man’s sister was one of the first people on the scene after two bomb blasts rocked Brussels airport.
Harold Deblanger said his sister Lynn called him early Tuesday morning. She is a Red Cross emergency responder stationed in Brussels and was in one of the first crews to arrive at Zaventem airport, he said.
"She felt angry, helpless, she felt scared," said Deblanger, a member of the Belgian Club of Northern California. "She felt angry that she was scared. She wanted to be strong."
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's bombings at the airport and on a metro train, which killed at least 31 people. U.S. counter-terrorism officials say the claim appeared genuine — and Belgian officials said a raid turned up an ISIS flag and other bomb materials.
Deblanger grew up in a small town about 30 miles away from Brussels. His family has feared the worst after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, he admitted.
"You realize the extent, the gravity, the horror and the lack of humanity," he said. "It’s mind-blowing."
Belgian Americans in the Bay Area held a vigil in San Francisco Tuesday night. Hundreds of people gathered outside City Hall and held a moment of silence.
The vigil also featured Belgium scouts singing their national anthem.
Paper was also set out for people to draw the victims’ silhouettes as a powerful memorial. City Hall was also lit up in the colors of the Belgian flag.
Meanwhile, Nathalie Delrue-Mcguire with the Belgium consulate is calling on the thousands of Belgians in the Bay Area to rally together.
"The best message is to stand in solidity – show our support, show our love," she said. "That’s very important and also not be scared."
Despite acknowledging the challenge in her suggestion, Delrue-Mcguire said, "We have to stay strong."
For his part, Deblanger said he will find strength in his two kids, who are looking forward to visiting their Aunt Lynn in Belgium, in the face of heartbreak.
"You hug them very dearly," he said.
The Belgian Club of Northern California is urging people who want to help to make donations to the Red Cross.