Barcelona attack witnesses: ‘The pavement was full of bodies’
‘First I saw people running and then the van. There were injured people in the middle of the Ramblas’
Turning into Las Ramblas from the Plaça de Catalunya, the white van drove towards the pavement that runs down the centre of the boulevard. Then, to the horror of those nearest to it, the driver revved the engine, mounted the pavement, and began to accelerate. Swerving from side to side, the driver hunted down victims who were trying to escape.
The famous tourist attraction had been as it always is on an August afternoon: packed with stallholders and tourists, lined with human statues and with people enjoying chilled cava outside the many cafes.
Within seconds, the attacker had left the street strewn with dead and injured people, while hundreds of others fled, many of them screaming.
It had taken the van a few seconds to travel almost 500m down the packed street, ending up straddling the famous mosaic by the artist Joan Míro, its front end almost torn off by the force of its impacts with people.
Jordi Lino was on a bus going down Las Ramblas when the attack began. “First I saw people running and then the van. There were injured people in the middle of the Ramblas.”
A taxi driver told Spanish TV that he saw people being run over by the van, as did Lourdes Porcar: “It was going very fast, without caring about who was in its way.”
Tom Markwell, from New Orleans, had just arrived in a taxi when he heard the screaming. “It sounded like they were screaming for a movie star. Then I saw the van. It had already been busted on the front. It was weaving left and right, trying to hit people as fast as possible. There were people lying on the ground.”
Liam Searle said: “I was very, very close to it. It was like 10ft from me. I luckily wasn’t on the Ramblas, I was in the road, and I quickly ran into...I think it was the opera house, along with everyone else.
“Everyone was hiding behind things. And no one had a clue what was going on. We just heard a load of bangs and some other things and then, like, everyone just ran.”
Albert Tort, an off-duty nurse who was one of the first on the scene, said he tried to give an Italian tourist life-saving treatment, but there was nothing he could do. “The pavement was full of bodies.”
The first that most people knew of the attack was when others around them started to run away in panic.
Aamer Anwar, a human rights lawyer and rector at the University of Glasgow, was attending a conference in the city, and said the fleeing crowd was like an avalanche.
Las Ramblas had been “mobbed” with tourists, he said. “I had been to the cathedral and walking down Las Ramblas for something to eat. Part of it was in the shade so I decided to keep walking down and literally within 10 seconds there was a crashing noise.
“The whole street just started to run screaming. I saw a woman running, when we stopped she was screaming, because she could not see her children.
“People started running and jumping into shops. I ran for about 50 or 100 metres and stopped to see what was happening.
“I could see chaos right at the top area and I spoke to a shopkeeper who had run down and was screaming. He was Bengali so I spoke to him in Urdu, and he said a van had driven into a crowd and he thought there were five to six people very seriously injured.
“Literally within 30 seconds police vans, ambulances, police officers with guns were piling out, and we were sectioned off and then being pushed rapidly back,” he said.
Hiding behind shutters
Many people fled into the cafes and stores that line Las Ramblas, and hid inside behind shutters that were pulled down after them. For a period, police insisted they stay inside while the area was searched.
Tourist Mel Higgins said she and her two daughters were walking down a nearby street when people began running towards them screaming and shouting. The trio ran into an Orange mobile phone shop where the staff locked the doors and everyone waited for about 20 minutes.
“Then it seemed very calm out on the street, and obviously the people working in Orange were in touch with the police and the police said just stay there for now. Then about 20 minutes later, they said we could leave, and we were just about to leave when people started running again, and screaming, and they said: ‘everyone back in’.”
Carol Augustin, a manager at La Palau Moja, an 18th-century building on Las Ramblas that houses government offices and a tourism information centre, said the van passed right in front of the building.
“People started screaming and running into the office. It was such a chaotic situation. There were families with children. The police made us close the doors and wait inside.”
Ambulance crews arrived quickly and began tending to the injured, while police officers began searching for the attacker, sealed off the area and told people to leave the scene.
Rhys Richards, who is in Barcelona on holiday, said: “I saw one person lying on the ground receiving CPR and another person lying on the ground motionless. You don’t think it can happen to you. It was horrible and terrifying.”
Shelter in bakery
Steve Garrett, who was in a nearby market, took shelter in a bakery with several others after streams of people ran inside. One member of the group said she had heard gunshots after the incident.
“We ran into the bakery with four or five other people and ran straight upstairs and hunkered down whilst an enormous wave of people went through the market.
“Obviously coming from England it was reminding me a great deal of what happened in London, so we were very concerned about what might be going on next. The lady that was with us said she heard some gunshots.”
Mr Garrett said a “second wave” of people then entered the market, followed by armed police. “They seemed to sweep through the market area. They seemed to be looking for someone. They were going very carefully, very cautiously, stall to stall.”
Steven Turner, who works in the area, told the BBC: “People in my office saw a van ramming into people on Las Ramblas. I saw about three or four people lying on the ground.”
Another witness said: “We were just told to run, it must have been quite close because...there was an immediate stampede to run away. We were just a minute away from it.”
Several metro stations were closed, and police appealed to people to stay indoors before they gradually evacuated the area.