Kindness of motherly stranger soothes Belgian storm anguish
Lieve Baert said what she did was "nothing," that everyone in the street did the same -- but for thousands of Belgian, Dutch and French music fans caught up in a deadly storm, the kindness of a motherly stranger made all the difference.
Time and again on Friday, as a refugee-like exodus of grubby teenagers weighed down with fold-up tents and back-packs streamed away from the cancelled Pukkelpop festival site on the outskirts of northern Flemish Hasselt, the same story kept coming up.
"That house, the big white one," said 17-year-old Yana Verbustel, cross-legged on a mud-free pavement outside the main festival entrance. "There were dozens of us -- and it was the same right along the street.
"They were calling us in out of the rain in the middle of the night," she told AFP.
The back garden was a sight: an immaculately furnished terrace, with a mid-sized oak crashed into the table and chairs, uprooted by the brutal evening storm that killed five Belgians, and left three more -- including two Dutch citizens -- in critical condition.
Lieve saw it as the least she could do, as she watched helplessly.
"I saw them out in the road, shouting angrily at their mobile phones because they weren't working," she told AFP.
"I told them 'come in, phone your mothers and your fathers on the landline, they must be worried sick'," she said.
A phone call turned into a hot drink and something to eat. "I looked at them and said 'come on, get into the shower, you will feel better'."
For most of the past decade, her own son and daughter would have been in the crowd eagerly awaiting the Foo Fighters.
"I felt so relieved, so fortunate -- and so guilty," Lieve said, explaining that on this occasion, her children were in Leuven, near Brussels, readying for another year of university study.
"Usually we put a marquee up in the garden for their friends and I buy in drinks for a party.
"I was actually quite glad to have the company of these youngsters instead," she admitted.
The houses are big, of very Dutch-looking architecture. Early afternoon on Friday, there wee still hundreds of kids whose parents were driving in from further afield sat on deck chairs in these front lawns.
"My Dad's coming to get me after work," said 17-year-old Sophie Vercammen.
A little down the road, a car pulls up, and an oversized fiftysomething gets out to greet his two teenage sons.
The reunion only made the heart heavier for mature crew working the site.
"To think you wave your daughter or son off, so full of excitement...," said volunteer Christel De Vries, whose job on Thursday night, when the storm hit, was to pick up plastic beer glasses from a field hosting 65,000 youths.
"Five dead and eight more seriously hurt -- it's just awful, but we have to try and remain grateful that it wasn't more.
"One tree could have felled scores of them.
"I will never forget this night," she sighed.
© 2011 AFP