Terror in Spain

Narrow escapes, chaos as van mows down people

Paramedics attending to one of the many pedestrians struck by a van that ploughed into crowds in Las Ramblas, Barcelona's most famous street, on Thursday. At least 13 people were killed and 130 injured in the terror attack, which residents had long f
Paramedics attending to one of the many pedestrians struck by a van that ploughed into crowds in Las Ramblas, Barcelona's most famous street, on Thursday. At least 13 people were killed and 130 injured in the terror attack, which residents had long feared would hit their bustling city.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Terrorist swerved vehicle from side to side to inflict more damage

BARCELONA • It was a warm summer Thursday afternoon in Las Ramblas, a top tourist area of Barcelona, which was packed with people at the peak of the holiday season.

The peace was rudely broken by a white delivery van, which suddenly swung off a street and onto the wide pedestrian mall that draws tourists to its bars, cafes and shops.

What followed were several terror-filled minutes just before 5pm local time (11pm Singapore time) for those caught in the path of the rampaging vehicle.

As people started to run, the driver swerved the van from side to side, in an apparent effort to inflict more damage. When the van came to a halt, its front was smashed and crumpled inward from the bodies it had hit. The toll: At least 13 dead and 130 injured.

Videos taken by witnesses posted online showed men, women and children motionless on the ground amid broken umbrellas and chairs, in the shade of trees, many bleeding profusely, while paramedics and friends knelt to comfort them as police sirens wailed.

Ms Whitney Cohn, a mathematics teacher from New York, was walking along the mall with her husband and two daughters, on the way back to her hotel after visiting a museum, when the van came careening through the crowd, throwing people aside like dolls as screams pierced the air. She grabbed her daughters and started running.

"It was flying," she said in a telephone interview. "The van missed us by a second."

PANIC EVERYWHERE

We didn't understand what was going on because we don't speak Spanish, which was probably a blessing in hindsight. But the panic was quite infectious and we were all driven back into the back of the shop and then we went into a hairdressing salon and we hid in a small storage cupboard at the end. We were crammed in, it was very frightening, lots of people crying, lots of people very upset.

MR SCOTT STRUDWICK, a British tourist on holiday in Barcelona with his family, including two small children.

Other witnesses described chaos as people dropped their belongings and fled as the van entered the mall and accelerated, hitting people indiscriminately, among them children, women and the elderly.

"It was horrific," said Mr Sergi Alcazar, a 25-year-old photographer who arrived 10 minutes after the attack to find victims lying amid broken umbrellas, chairs and tables.

American tourist Ash Patel from Washington was on holiday with his wife. "We left our 15-month-old back in the US. And the only thing I wanted to do is live another day to see her," he told Agence France-Presse.

Spain had been spared a large- scale terrorist attack since the 2004 bombing of the Madrid rail system that killed 192 people and injured about 2,000, but the authorities had long braced themselves for another hit.

Residents of Barcelona said they had long feared an attack on their bustling city. "This is a huge city, and somehow we were always expecting something like this, but of course you are never prepared," said Ms Cristina Nadal, 44, an aide for the Catalan government, who was there during the moment of silence held for victims yesterday.

The crowd was "exactly what we wanted to show. That although the terrorists want to beat us, we can show to the world that we can still stand strong", she said.

Two long-time Muslim residents of Barcelona said they were furious about the violence. "What Islam teaches us is that killing one person is like killing all of humanity," said Ms Nagma Jawed, 40, who moved here 20 years ago from her native India and runs a textile shop in the city. "First of all, we are human beings. Our religion comes after that."

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WATCH THE VIDEO

Eyewitness video of van attack aftermath. str.sg/4rUn

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2017, with the headline 'Narrow escapes, chaos as van mows down people'. Print Edition | Subscribe