International terrorist attacks might seem a world away but events like the Belgium bombing have international connections that spread worldwide, including to Santa Monica.

Jay Johnson and his wife Rachel Sene are known to Santa Monicans as members of the local Democratic Club but their daughter, Clara Seneca, and her husband, Giacomo Valentini, live in Brussels, about 200 yards from one of the targeted metro stations.

Valentini was at the metro station the morning of the attack but escaped unharmed. He sent an email to friends and family shortly after the attack describing the experience.

Email from Giacomo Valentini:

This is to assure everybody that Clara and I are OK. This morning just after 9 am, a bomb went off at the Metro station “Maelbeek”, 200 metres (yards) from our home. I was at that station waiting on the underground platform for the next train just as the explosion happened. I saw a flash of light come out of the tunnel, and a big bang, of the sort that one hears at fireworks. A thick black smoke immediately invaded the whole station. There was a smell like gun powder. I was next to the exit escalator, so I quickly ran up towards the exit. It was an unreal experience, I could hardly believe what was happening.

The Maelbeek station is small. Nobody among the people standing around me on the platform appeared to be harmed. As soon as I got up to street level, I saw that the glass windows and doors of the entrance were completely shattered, no doubt from the force of the explosion. Strangely, I hadn’t felt a strong shock wave where I was standing. I must have been standing in a position where the shock wave did not hit with its full force – perhaps the wall behind me stopped it.

As I walked out of the station, there were dozens of other people running and crying, I saw people sitting on the pavement, a man with a bloodied face was walking away while talking on the phone. He was probably cut by the flying debris, maybe he did not realize how bloodied he looked. There was no smoke in the street nor any damage to nearby buildings.

In the minutes that followed, I saw more people crying, and the security guard of a nearby building started directing the traffic away from the metro entrance. I then walked home to reach Clara. Later, I blew my nose and realized I had inhaled much more soot and minute debris than I had first believed.

The metro station has two exists, and it appears that there was more damage and smoke at the other exit. I was lucky. As of writing this, the news is of some 15 dead at the metro station. While the reports talk of the deaths occurring at metro station, I saw the explosion come from inside the tunnel. I was looking right at it, since the indication panel indicated that the train was about to arrive and was anxious to get on. I had at first wondered whether a bomb had exploded at the next station, the much larger and crowded Arts-Loi station. But my speculation is that perhaps a bomb went off on a train transiting between the two metro stations.

By 11 a.m., in the road in front of our house, which is one of the four that lead to the Maelbeek metro, a constant flow of ambulances started to pass, about one every minute or so. The grim sound of sirens is still haunting. The police recommends that we do not leave our homes. It is 12:15 right now, and the situation is “calm but tense”, as the saying goes.

I will send updates if necessary. But probably the news reports can take things up from here.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...