Chaos as truck mows down all in its path

Investigators at the scene yesterday after an assailant rammed his truck down a busy promenade filled with Bastille Day revellers. The entire country was stunned by the attack on the French Riviera city of Nice, which left scores dead.
Investigators at the scene yesterday after an assailant rammed his truck down a busy promenade filled with Bastille Day revellers. The entire country was stunned by the attack on the French Riviera city of Nice, which left scores dead.PHOTO: REUTERS

NICE • It was a lovely night in Nice, reporter Damien Allemand recalled. Thousands had thronged the seaside promenade that skirts the edge of the city, many faces tilted upwards to watch fireworks explode overhead in honour of France's national day. Light and music spilled from restaurants, cheers punctuated the bursts of fireworks.

Mr Allemand, a reporter for Nice Matin, a local newspaper, was about to leave when he heard the crack of gunshots cut through the revelry. A fraction of a second later, a huge white truck went roaring past. It ploughed into the crowds, as though it intended to hit as many people as possible.

"I saw bodies flying like bowling pins in its path. Heard sounds, howls that I will never forget," Mr Allemand wrote in a post on the website Medium.

The "truck of death", as he called it, passed just several metres from where he stood.

For a moment, he was frozen. People streamed past him, screaming, crying. He heard someone yell: "Get to shelter." Another pleaded: "Where is my son?"

Finally, he turned and ran.

Suddenly, everyone was running, according to witness accounts, still unsure of what was going on, but simply running because everyone else was.

"People were fleeing and shouting," Ms Maryam Violet, an Iranian journalist on vacation, told The Guardian newspaper. "People were shouting: 'It's a terrorist attack! It's a terrorist attack!' "

People ducked into any place of refuge they could find, any business or restaurant that was open. Others jumped across fences.

"We saw a guy basically throw his kids over a fence and then jump after them," Mr Ismali Khalidi told The Guardian.

Agence France-Presse correspondent Robert Holloway said he had to shield his face from flying debris as the attacker drove the truck more than 2km along the palm-fringed beachfront, mowing people down.

"It was absolute chaos," he said.

Moroccan university student Imad Dafaaou, who was holidaying in Nice, told ABC News that the truck barely missed him.

"It was running over people. Some people were trying to get out of the way. Some people were in shock. I started to run away. I was in shock. I couldn't even think. I was running. There was a bench in front of me, so I had to jump over it, so I jumped over it and fell over on a woman."

In a Facebook video that has been viewed 3,000 times, Mr Tarubi Wahid Mosta described how he had taken photos of the aftermath - children's toys lying abandoned; an empty pushchair.

"I almost stepped on a corpse, it was horrible. It looked like a battlefield," he said, trembling, his eyes red. "All these bodies and their families... they spent hours on the ground holding the cold hands of bodies dismembered by the truck. You can't even speak to them or comfort them."

When he finally went home, he took a victim's Yorkshire terrier dog with him.

Egyptian Nadar el Shafei told BFM television he initially thought the driver - identified as Tunisian-born Frenchman Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, 31 - had lost control.

"I was in the street. He stopped just in front of me after he (crushed) a lot of people," he said. "We were trying to speak to the driver to get him to stop.

"He looked nervous. There was a girl under the car, he smashed her. The guy next to me pulled her out," he said in broken English.

The driver then pulled out a gun and started shooting at police, who returned fire.

"They killed him and his head was out the window."

Photos from the scene showed the massive front window of the truck had at least 27 bullet holes.

On the promenade, blood pooled around bodies covered by blankets and foil sheets. Horror-struck people knelt by the bodies of the dead, while first responders tended to others. A Reuters photographer captured an image of a small figure covered in foil, a doll beside the body.

Mr Allande wrote that he wanted to stay and help, but "froze again".

"At that moment, I lost courage," he said. He left on his scooter as the ambulances began to arrive.

"This evening was horror."

WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2016, with the headline 'Chaos as truck mows down all in its path'. Print Edition | Subscribe