Still reeling from the national trauma caused by the gruesome Christmas market truck attack in Berlin late last year that claimed 12 lives and injured several other people, Germany has become extra paranoid and vigilant for a repeat of such terrorist attacks. An incident shook the Hamburg airport today, although authorities were quick to reassure people that it's not anywhere near the gravity of the December 19 horror.
German officials earlier today evacuated hundreds of travelers and temporarily closed the airport after passengers complained of breathing difficulties and eye irritation in the security luggage-check area.
68 people were reported injured. Authorities were quick to rule the incident as a terrorist attack though. Hamburg police are pointing instead to a cartridge containing pepper spray as the probable culprit. It was found in the bin provided for travelers to dispose of their liquid items before boarding.
The fire department also failed to detect any dangerous substances.
The fire department insists that instead of a terrorist being behind the incident, they're considering just some "clown", who, for whatever reason released the pepper spray into an air conditioning vent, triggering the substance to spread. The cartridge discovered in the bin was only the size of a lipstick so the authorities are claiming that it would not have the capacity to affect and injure so many people without the air-conditioning system diffusing the gas.
Passengers started experiencing eye irritation that also led to coughing at around 11 am Germany time, and the authorities responded by canceling all flights and evacuating people from all terminals an hour and a half later. Only after a terror attack was ruled out several hours after did flights and operations resume at the airport.
The Hamburg airport incident may have been caused by just an irresponsible prank but it also illustrates how people's lives in very public places such as airports can be easily disrupted and how edgy people could be because of terrorist threats.