Residents of French Riviera city told to stay indoors after vehicle and shooting attack at Bastille Day celebration; police operation underway in city center
(SOURCE) As many as 80 revelers were killed late Thursday in a terror attack in the French Riviera city of Nice that saw a truck driver plow his vehicle into a crowd as it left a traditional Bastille Day fireworks show on the beachfront.
Conflicting reports initially put the death toll at between 30 and 60 people, but officials have since upped the number to at least 80.
Some 130 people were reported wounded, with one French news outlet saying 42 of them were in critical condition. The death toll is likely to continue rising, officials said.
The truck driver reportedly drove intentionally into a dense crowd that was leaving the celebration on the famed Promenade des Anglais, then stepped out of the vehicle and opened fire on passersby.
The driver’s rampage was stopped in a hail of gunfire from police that left the truck itself riddled with bullets.
Nice mayor Christian Estrosi said that police found grenades and firearms in the truck.
A police operation was underway in the area, local authorities said, telling locals to avoid central Nice.
“Emergency operation in progress. Keep calm and avoid downtown area. Follow the official accounts to be informed,” a tweet by the Gendarmerie said.
Sylvie Toffin, a press officer with the local prefecture, confirmed to AP that the incident was deliberate.
“It’s an attack,” she said.
“The lorry was seen mounting the pavement and piling into anyone the driver could see, ramming over those who tried to run away,” The Telegraph reported.
An AFP reporter described seeing a white van driving at high speed toward the pedestrians.
“We saw people hit and bits of debris flying around,” the AFP reporter said, adding that the incident took place near the city’s famed Hotel Negresco.
At the scene, eyewitnesses reported terrified pedestrians screaming as they fled the area. “It was absolute chaos,” an AFP reporter said.
A huge security cordon was established closing off the central Place Massena by 2330 GMT, another AFP correspondent said.
Earlier, Nice mayor Estrosi wrote on Twitter that “the driver of a van appears to have killed dozens. Stay in your homes for now. More info to follow,” Another city official said as many as 30 may have been killed.
Security forces and ambulances raced to the scene, and authorities from the local Alpes-Maritimes prefecture also urged residents to stay indoors.
France’s President Francois Hollande returned to Paris from a trip to the southern city of Avignon to oversee emergency operations at the Interior Ministry, according to his office.
Initial responses to the attack included that of UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who tweeted, “Shocked to hear about yet another incident bringing horrific loss of life to many in France. Our prayers are with the people of #Nice.”
France’s ambassador to the US, Gerard Araud, tweeted, “Again. Sadness.These people only wanted to enjoy the Bastille day fireworks with their family and their friends. Sadness.”
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack, but France has recently seen a spate of dramatic assaults by jihadist groups, including Islamic State.
AP and AFP contributed to this report.