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article imageAFP photographer describes heartbreak of Nice attack aftermath

By AFP     Jul 15, 2016 in World

AFP's Valery Hache was one of the first photographers to arrive on the scene of the attack in Nice on Thursday night and he captured striking images of the chaos and the truck, its windscreen riddled with bullet holes.

Here is his account of what he found:

"The dread began to fill me when I heard the sirens. Too loud. Then I saw the columns of fire trucks. Too many. Something wasn't right.

It was the evening of the July 14th, France's national day, and I had just spent several relaxing hours shooting the annual fireworks display. Four days earlier, when the month-long Euro football championship ended, all of us journalists breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Throughout the championship, including the final that I covered in Paris, we were all afraid that attackers would strike, so there was always tension.

People react in the French Riviera town of Nice on July 15  2016  after a van drove into a crowd wat...
People react in the French Riviera town of Nice on July 15, 2016, after a van drove into a crowd watching a fireworks display
Valery Hache, AFP

But nothing happened, so after the final we all left Paris for our respective homes relaxed, looking forward to the summer holiday season. Even the president seemed to validate our tranquility when he announced on July 14, French independence day, that the state of emergency that had been in place since the deadly November attacks in Paris would not be extended.

So on the evening of Bastille Day, I had a pleasant, relaxing time shooting the annual fireworks in Nice. Everyone loves a fireworks display. Especially families with kids. Especially in such a tourist hub. Especially at the height of the summer holiday season. The seaside promenade was jam-packed with people.

I shot plenty of photos but, knowing that the focus is usually always on Paris, sent just one to the desk -- the fireworks with bolts of lightning behind them. Then I went home.

'Pure panic '

Ten minutes after walking through the door of my apartment in the hills overlooking the city, I heard the sirens and saw the fire truck columns. I began to sense that something wasn’t right, grabbed my cameras and headed back to my scooter. A journalist friend called, saying 'something serious has happened on the Promenade des Anglais', the city’s main thoroughfare.

I drove there as fast as I could, then left the scooter and continued on foot.

Police officers  firefighters and rescue workers are seen at the site of an attack on July 15  2016 ...
Police officers, firefighters and rescue workers are seen at the site of an attack on July 15, 2016, after a truck drove into a crowd watching a fireworks display in the French Riviera town of Nice
Valery Hache, AFP

I walked into a scene of pure panic.

Hundreds of people were running in all different directions. Some were screaming. Some were crying. "Terrorists!" "There are terrorists!" "They are shooting!" "Terrorists in Nice!" I heard gunfire, but didn't know where it was coming from.

I walked, trying to get my bearings, to figure out what was going on. Police were just starting to cordon off the place. I saw a truck, its windshield riddled with bullets, surrounded by police. I stopped and got some shots.

I stayed for only about 10 seconds before moving on. By the time I sent my photos, 15 minutes later, the whole place was sealed off and you couldn’t get anywhere. People were still in panic. Some were hugging. Some were sobbing, walking slowly away. The lucky ones who escaped.

Once I got to the area behind the truck, I saw bodies everywhere. I continued to take pictures, but couldn’t believe what I was seeing in my viewfinder. Bodies strewn all along Nice’s main street.

'Tiny bodies'

Nice is a tourist magnet, not just for foreigners, but for the French as well. There were huge crowds here for the July 14th celebrations.

Soldiers  police officers and firefighters walk near dead bodies covered with blue sheets on the Pro...
Soldiers, police officers and firefighters walk near dead bodies covered with blue sheets on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on July 15, 2016
Valery Hache, AFP

I am a journalist and we journalists knew there was a risk of this. It was in the back of our minds throughout the weeks of the Euro tournament. But the Euro went off without a hitch and now I found myself in Nice -- touristy, beachy, laid-back Nice! -- and there were bodies everywhere.

Some were tiny bodies. Kids. Their parents must have been so happy to give their kids a treat and bring them to see the fireworks on July 14th. And that’s the heartbreak of it all..."

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