NICE (France) — Terrified revelers screamed as a truck plowed at speed into a crowd of fireworks spectators in Nice, an AFP reporter said, turning Bastille Day celebrations into a night of horror.
AFP correspondent Robert Holloway, who was among the crowd celebrating France’s national day on Nice’s Promenade des Anglais, had to shield his face from flying debris as the truck plunged two kms (1.3 miles) along the beachfront, mowing people down.
“It was absolute chaos,” Holloway said.
“We saw people hit and bits of debris flying around. I had to protect my face from flying debris.”
At least 70 people have been killed and scores injured, prosecutors said, with local government official Sebastien Humbert saying Nice had been hit by a “major criminal attack.”
People screamed and scattered as the truck veered down the palm-lined promenade where thousands of adults and children had gathered for the fireworks, walking towards the famous Negresco Hotel.
“For a big truck like that to get actually onto the promenade and then to go in a fairly straight line along there, looked to me like a very deliberate act,” Holloway said.
“It was about 100 meters from me and I had a few seconds to get out of the way.”
Other witnesses described hearing gunfire, although this was not immediately confirmed by the authorities.
Police could be seen surrounding the truck in the early hours of Friday, its windscreen riddled with bullet holes, under the lights of the Negresco Hotel.
Witness Roy Calley, who said he lived 200 meters from the promenade, told the BBC there was “all hell breaking loose” and the situation was “pretty horrendous. It was a celebratory atmosphere, it was fun, people were enjoying themselves. Suddenly I heard a huge, what I can only describe as maybe an explosion or a crash. A lot of people were screaming. That was followed by what I thought were maybe gunshots.”
Australian Emily Watkins said she was less than 50 meters away from the incident and saw the truck on the promenade but did not realize what was happening.
“There was a lot of confusion. I don’t actually remember seeing the truck moving,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“There was a lot of screaming coming from ahead of us where the truck was, and people just running towards us and without really knowing what was going on we turned and ran as well.
“As we were running away, we could hear what I thought at the time were more flares or fireworks.
“People were tripping over and trying to get into hotel lobbies and restaurants or car parks or anywhere they could to get away from the street.”
Her partner David Cody, an ABC producer, added: “People were tripping over in the commotion, there was a lot of panic.
“People were trying to get into hotels, any businesses that were open, trying to take shelter, because it was unclear what was happening.
“With each bang that we heard behind us, people perhaps started to go a bit faster, people were tripping over, it was a very chaotic scene.”
Earlier in the evening, as the crowds enjoyed the fireworks, lightning had flashed in the skies above the Riviera resort.
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.