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“Screaming that I will never forget”: what one journalist just saw in Nice

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

When a truck plowed into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, late Thursday night, killing at least 70, it destroyed what was otherwise a joyous scene: residents and tourists gathered along a popular stretch of beach to celebrate the national holiday with fireworks.

Among them was Damien Allemand, a journalist in charge of the digital service for Nice-Matin, the local newspaper group. In short, searing sentences, he wrote in a Medium post about what he saw and how a typical evening became a nightmare. Here’s part of what he witnessed, translated from the original French:

It was a laid-back evening. The atmosphere was good, the fireworks pretty neat, the kids were throwing rocks in the water and the network was crashing. In other words, it was a laid-back evening.

Then everything went wrong:

From far off, a noise. Screams.

My first thought: a clever joker wanted to set off his own little fireworks and lost control... But no. A fraction of a second later, a huge white truck flew by at a crazy speed, driving over people, twisting the wheel to cut down the maximum number of people. This truck of death passed a few meters away from me and I didn’t realize it. I saw bodies fly like bowling pins along its path. Heard noises, screaming that I will never forget.

I was frozen with fear.

Allemand briefly took refuge in a local restaurant, Le Cocodile, but headed back out because he needed to know what was happening. What he saw was horrifying:

The Prom [the seaside path near the beach] was deserted. Not a noise. Not a siren. Not a single car. So I crossed the traffic island to go back to the truck’s path. I bumped into Raymond, around 50, in tears, who gasped, "There are dead bodies everywhere." He was right.

Right behind him, bodies every 5 meters, lifeless, limbs... blood. Whimpering. The beach attendants were the first on the scene. They brought water for the wounded and towels that they spread over those for whom there was no hope. Just then, I lost my nerve. I would have loved to help, to be of service... to do anything. But I didn’t. Frozen again.

People began panicking again, thinking that the truck driver had returned, Allemand wrote. But the night was over:

The truck-killer had finished his run dozens of meters away, targeted by bullets. I hadn’t heard any shots. Just screams. And now sobs. What sobs.