Survivors recall lucky escapes, scene of carnage

Candles and flowers are seen near the site where a truck ploughed through a crowd at a Berlin Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz square in the west of Berlin, Germany on Dec 20, 2016.
Candles and flowers are seen near the site where a truck ploughed through a crowd at a Berlin Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz square in the west of Berlin, Germany on Dec 20, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN • Visitors to the Breitscheidplatz Christmas market were drinking traditional hot wine and taking in the sights and sounds when there was a sudden bang and everything went dark as a truck mowed into the crowd, killing 12.

A man who saw the bloodshed told the Berliner Morgenpost that the driver appeared to be targeting the market, turning off his lights as he steered towards the crowds.

"It must have been on purpose because he didn't have the lights on," he said. "Then, I just heard this loud bang and hysterical screams."

Ms Carima Douch, a Belgian who was working at the Zaventem airport in Brussels when the suicide bombings happened in March, told of yet another lucky escape.

She told Dutch daily De Telegraaf after witnessing the Berlin attack: "It is very difficult. You feel totally powerless. And I am speechless. Everything comes back again. It is unbelievable that it is happening all over again."

Her friend, Ms Carima Akel-Freie, a personal assistant from Leuven in Belgium, said: "We thought it would be fun to go to the Christmas market. We were going to stay there, but a group wanted to leave to go and get a drink. I am really happy that we decided to go with them. It probably saved our lives."

A British visitor to the market, Mr Mike Fox from Birmingham, told the BBC how he helped rescue people trapped under collapsed market stalls.

Mr Fox said he spoke to two people who were lying on the floor with broken limbs, adding: "But they were going to be okay."

He said: "I saw one guy being dragged away with blood on his face. I helped several other people lift the side of one of the stalls up so that they could pull two other people from underneath."

Another visitor who had a lucky escape was British tourist Rhys Meredith, from Cardiff, who was at the market with his girlfriend when the lorry crashed into the crowd.

"We were having a good walk around, soaking up the scene, soaking up the atmosphere," he told the BBC.

"We had bought food and had we carried on, we would have walked down the path the truck would have been down and we more than likely wouldn't be having this conversation right now."

Mr Meredith said the lorry caused "complete and utter devastation". "There was clearly no attempt to try and slow down... We have seen stalls... obliterated into nothing."

WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline 'Survivors recall lucky escapes, scene of carnage'. Print Edition | Subscribe