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'Diving For Their Lives': Terror Along French Riviera Kills At Least 84

Flowers are laid out near the site of the truck attack in Nice. The attack ended when police shot and killed the driver.
Flowers are laid out near the site of the truck attack in Nice. The attack ended when police shot and killed the driver.

At a beachside restaurant in Nice, France, Eric Drattell and his wife were relaxing after a fireworks show when a white truck began speeding down the promenade, mowing people down.

"You go from having an absolutely marvelous time to sheer terror in a blink of an eye, literally," he says. "It was a spectacular fireworks show. And then all of a sudden this happens and people are screaming."

Some people jumped off the promenade seeking safety, he says. "My wife's comment to me later ... she said it was like a zombie attack. People were literally diving for their lives," Drattell says. "There were bodies and blood everywhere."

At least 84 people are dead, including two Americans, after the Bastille Day attack, which French authorities are investigating as an act of terror. French President Francois Hollande said Thursday night that it "can't be denied" the attack was an act of terror.

Local media, citing law enforcement sources, say an ID found in the truck belonged to Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, and that police believe that is the identity of the driver.

The Associated Press initially reported that the ID belonged to a Frenchman of Tunisian descent; they are now reporting that the ID was of a Tunisian legally living in France.

The truck accelerated as it approached the crowd that had gathered on a seaside promenade to celebrate the national holiday. The driver continued forward as he hit scores of people.

The BBC reports that the truck traveled more than a mile through the crowd, with eyewitnesses saying it "swerved and zigzagged" as it went.

The attack ended when police shot and killed the driver. According to a government official, police found guns and explosives in the back of the truck, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

"People are stunned," Eleanor says. "Nice is a small, calm, lovely little city. ... People saw it in Paris twice, but they never thought it would happen here."

She describes a jarring scene in Nice on Friday morning — a clear sunny day, with palm trees and the blue Mediterranean Sea visible behind investigators in hazmat suits picking through debris, including baby carriages.

More than 10 children were among the dead, The Associated Press reports, citing the regional president in Nice. The children's hospital in Nice says it has treated dozens of children and teenagers injured in the attack, the AP adds.

Speaking in Nice on Friday, President Hollande said that approximately 50 of the injured are "between life and death."

Australian journalist David Coady, in Nice on vacation, witnessed the attack. The first thing he saw was a large white truck on the Promenade des Anglais.

"I remember thinking, 'That's really odd,' because this is an area that's been closed off to road traffic, just pedestrians were using it," Coady tells NPR. "But in that moment as I was considering it, that's when the panic really took hold."

"People were falling over," he says. "They were getting more panicked every time we heard a bang, and we didn't know what it was at the time, but we know now it was gunshots."

In the aftermath of the attack, French President Francois Hollande announced he will extend France's state of emergency — declared after last November's attack in Paris and due to expire before the end of the month — for three more months. The French anti-terrorism prosecutor has opened a terrorism investigation.

Hollande also said he would activate those who had once served in the military and the gendarmerie to help relieve police and active-duty soldiers.

France will begin a three-day period of mourning on Saturday.

Many details of the attack are still unclear, including the motivation of the driver.

Investigators are still working to determine what weapons — besides the truck — the attacker might have used. Some eyewitness reports have indicated the driver shot at police, possibly through the window of the vehicle, but Eleanor reports it's also possible that the only shots fired came from police.

Explosives and grenades reportedly found in the back of the truck don't appear to have been used in the attack, she says.

Police are also still investigating whether the driver had any accomplices in the attack, or if he acted alone.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.

This is a breaking news story. As often happens in situations like these, some information reported early may turn out to be inaccurate. We'll move quickly to correct the record and we'll only point to the best information we have at the time.
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Jonese Franklin

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