Relatives' agonising wait to identify Brussels dead

2016-03-25 08:31
Two Belgian police officers walk past a wall which has "RIP Brussels" and "Brussels My Sweetheart" written on it as people gather to mourn for the victims of the bombings in the city. (Peter Dejong, AP)

Two Belgian police officers walk past a wall which has "RIP Brussels" and "Brussels My Sweetheart" written on it as people gather to mourn for the victims of the bombings in the city. (Peter Dejong, AP)

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Brussels - Forensic experts were on Thursday still going through the grisly and complex process of identifying victims of the Brussels bomb attacks, as families of those missing endured an agonising wait, their hopes fading by the hour.

As friends and relatives anxiously sought news from the increasingly desperate search, Belgian police experts were going through the painstaking work required to confirm the fatalities.

Tuesday's attacks at Brussels airport and at a metro station in the Belgian capital killed 31 people and injured another 300, 61 of whom were in critical condition.

Identification is proving slow, complicated by the violence of the explosions and because many of the victims were foreigners, police told RTBF television.

Around 40 nationalities are thought to be among the dead and wounded.

Their diverse backgrounds reflect the cosmopolitan nature of Brussels, Europe's symbolic capital.

"We have lost contact with Frank Deng. We've checked with his hotel in Brussels. He left at 07:16 and went to the airport where his flight was at 09:05," David Ye, a close friend, told AFP.

Jewellery, teeth and DNA

The first port of call for worried friends and relatives is the 1771 emergency number set up by the Belgian authorities.

Upon phoning they are told whether their loved ones are on a list of the injured. If not they are directed towards the Reine-Astrid military hospital, where a team of doctors, police officers and Red Cross staff has been specially put together to liaise with them.

About 30 specialists, including the seven permanent Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team experts, are working to identify the bodies or remains of victims recovered from the attack scenes.

"They collect all the items they can: jewellery, wallets, clothes, human remains," said Belgian police spokesperson Michael Jonnois.

"They will compare these post-mortem items with ante-mortem information: how tall the person was, their weight, hair, etc.

"In extreme cases, we can resort to DNA samples. We can identify them from their teeth, genetic code or fingerprint."

He added: "We want to have 100% certainty. We cannot allow ourselves to have the slightest doubt."

Desperate search

A Facebook page where worried relatives, friends and colleagues can post notices of the missing has been set up. Pictures already uploaded show men and women, young and old, from Belgium and across the globe.

They have been shared thousands of times as people try to spread the word in the hope of finding out what happened to their loved ones.

"HAVE YOU SEEN THIS GIRL? Her name is ALINE BASTIN, Belgian, 29 years old. She was most probably on the metro," read one.

"We are DESPERATELY looking for her - should you have any news, PLEASE give a sign!"

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa announced on Thursday that Jimmy Montenegro, 37, from the northern city of Ibarra, was in a "very serious" condition after being caught in the metro blast.

"The wound is in the brain and the situation is critical," Montenegro's brother Marcelo Trujillo told AFP. The victim's wife said a piece of metal had hit the right side of his brain.

New York siblings Sascha and Alexander Pinczowski were at the airport. A Dutch newspaper said they were on the telephone to a relative when the bombs went off and the line went dead.

There has been no news of them since.

David Dixon, 51, a British computer programmer who lived in Brussels, texted his aunt after the airport blasts to say he was safe, but there are fears he was caught up in the metro attack.

"We are anxiously waiting for more information about our dear David," his family said in a statement.

"We continue to hope for good news."

Three confirmed fatalities

So far, just three of the fatalities have been named.

Adelma Marina Tapia Ruiz, a 37-year-old Peruvian woman who lived in Belgium, was killed in the airport blasts, the foreign ministry in Lima confirmed.

Another victim was Belgian civil servant Olivier Delespesse, according to his employer.

He was killed in the metro attack, local media reported, along with 20-year-old Belgian law student Leopold Hecht, who was named by his university.

Hecht's family has decided to donate his organs.

"We know it's the decision he would have wanted us to take," they told La Libre Belgique newspaper.

"We hope that giving his organs will save a life or help someone else."

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