NICE â€" It was a cool atmosphere, the fireworks were impressive, kids tossing pebbles in the water â€" and the Promenade des Anglais was packed full. Just like every other Bastille Day.
I had chosen to spend the evening on the beach around the High-Club, where the Promenade becomes pedestrian. As soon as the show was over, we all stood up at the same time. Heading for the stairs, all squished like sardines. I was zigzagging between people to reach my scooter, parked nearby.
In the distance, a noise. Screams. My first thought: some smartass wanted to make his own fireworks and lost control.. But no. A fraction of a second later, a huge white truck raced by at a crazy speed, steering hard in order to hit as many people as possible. This truck of death passed just a few feet away from me, and I did not even realize it.
Where is my son?
I saw bodies fly like bowling pins as it passed. I heard screams that I will never forget. Petrified, I did not move. Panic was all around. People were running, screaming, crying. Then, I realized that I should run with them, and started heading toward the Cocodile, where everyone was running to for refuge. I only stayed for a few minutes even if it felt to me like an eternity. "Run for cover". "Don't stay here". "Where is my son ? Where is my son ?"â€Šâ€"â€ŠThese are just some of the words I heard around me.
Quickly, it was time for me to find out what had happened. I went outside, but the Promenade looked deserted. No noise. No sirens. Not a single car. I then crossed the median to return to where the truck had passed. I ran into Raymond, in his fifties, in tears, who told me: "There are dead people everywhere".
He was right. Right behind him, every 15 feet there were lifeless bodies, body parts... Blood. Whimpering. The beach attendants were first on the scene. They brought water for the injured and towels which they laid where there was no more hope. In that moment, I lost my courage. I wanted to help, offer assistance... in short, do something. But I couldn't.
Soon, a second wave of panic sent me running back to the Cocodile. "He's coming back! He's coming back!" It was a lie. The truck murderer's end came nearby, covered in bullets. I didn't hear any gunshots. Just screams. An now crying. Only crying.
I ran again, straight ahead. I got my scooter to quickly try to get far away from this hell. I went back up the Promenade and I grasped the full extent of the tragedy. Bodies and injured people covered the sidewalk all the way to Lenval. The first ambulances were beginning to arrive...
*Damien Allemand is the digital director of Nice Matin. This piece also appeared on Medium.