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American Witness Describes Scene Of Truck Attack In Nice, France

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Across France tonight, people gathered to watch fireworks to celebrate Bastille Day. In the city of Nice, in the south of France, the boardwalk was full of people watching the display over the Mediterranean Sea. And at some point, a large truck began to accelerate into the crowd. Now local authorities say more than 70 people have been killed. Many more are wounded. The mayor of Nice says, the truck was packed with explosives. Photographs released by the AFP News Agency show the dashboard of the truck full of bullet holes. We are about to get multiple perspectives on this unfolding event, beginning with an eyewitness. Eric Drattell is an American citizen who lives in London. He was on vacation in Nice with his wife. Thank you for joining us.

ERIC DRATTELL: Sure.

SHAPIRO: Tell us what you saw tonight.

DRATTELL: So we were watching the fireworks. We were at a restaurant on the beach, which is about 3 meters down below the Promenade des Anglais. And the fireworks had ended about 10:30. We were paying our bill, and all of a sudden heard, pop, pop, pop, pop and people screaming. And my wife, though she's deaf, recognized the sound as gunfire and grabbed me. And we started running for the serving, kitchen area, where there are toilets and whatnot for the restaurant.

And as we were running toward this area, people started diving off the promenade onto the beach about 3 meters - 12 or so feet, 13-feet below. One actually dove and went up high, slamming into my wife. She's slightly injured but OK. We went into a toilet stall with about, I would say, 10 to 12 other people and were there for some time.

SHAPIRO: You had no idea what was unfolding outside of that bathroom.

DRATTELL: No, nothing, nothing at all. I was on Twitter, trying to find out what was going on and got very little information. The police weren't telling anybody anything. We were - then we were allowed out into a common area still under cover and then told to go back into cover.

And then after about two hours, we were all - we were all evacuated as a group to a hotel about 150 meters down the beach, where police were interviewing eyewitnesses and people who were injured were being treated. And then I guess around 1:30 in the morning, about 40 minutes ago, we were allowed to leave the hotel that we were at - to walk back to our hotel, which is on the Promenade des Anglais. We had to take a circuitous route back. I came out to a Hyatt, which is maybe 100 meters the other way on the promenade. And that's apparently where the - where the truck was stopped...

SHAPIRO: And as you were walking back and forth over the course of the evening, what did you see in the streets?

DRATTELL: So initially, when we were walking from the beach to the first hotel, we saw one body. I saw a stroller that had been crushed, saw street signs and other debris. But when we were walking back from the Hyatt to our hotel, there were bodies every - bodies and blood everywhere. It was just - I'm in complete shock. There's just - it was unbelievable carnage.

SHAPIRO: I'm so sorry for what you've had to go through tonight. Did you - did you see the truck itself?

DRATTELL: No, I did not. I don't know where it was. The police were not allowing us to linger.

SHAPIRO: Now, for people who are not familiar with Nice, for people who are not familiar with Bastille Day celebrations, can you just describe what the scene was before all of this happened?

DRATTELL: Sure. It's just like July 4 in the U.S., where there were fireworks. There were a couple of boats on the - on the Mediterranean they were shooting the fireworks up from. It was - it was absolutely beautiful. There were a lot of people on the promenade, which - it's two lanes running east and two lanes running west. It had been closed down since about 2 or 3 o'clock this afternoon. There were bandstands out. There were a lot of people, although I understand from somebody here that the crowds are actually down about a third from prior years. It was attributed to concerns about terrorism. But it was just - like I said, just like July 4. It was a pretty festive mood.

DRATTELL: Did you sense much security before the event began? After all, France is a country that has dealt with terrorism before. And while they have not yet said that this is terrorism, there were real concerns.

DRATTELL: So we had been in Paris. This is the end of our two-week holiday. We started in Paris for several days, and there was very visible police presence and military presence anywhere you went. And in Nice, it was virtually invisible. We did not see many, if any, police. The only time we saw anybody was on Sunday night, we went to watch the Euro finals at the Nice fan zone. And there were a few police around there. In fact, we decided - the crowd was huge. We decided not to stay, and instead wanted to watch from a bar because we were concerned about the crowds and the - it just seemed like an inviting target. So - but we felt pretty relaxed about tonight...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

DRATTELL: ...And weren't concerned at all.

SHAPIRO: You've said that your hotel is on the promenade. What is the scene there now, a few hours after this event?

DRATTELL: So there are police - I assume they're police - gendarmes, very heavily armed. There's crime scene tape, but there are also people walking along the promenade back to their hotels or whatever. Then there are - some of the police have masks on. It's - first time I've ever seen that.

SHAPIRO: And have you received any guidance from local authorities?

DRATTELL: None.

SHAPIRO: Well, Eric Drattell, I appreciate your talking with us, and I'm sorry for what you've been through tonight. Eric Drattell, thanks very much.

DRATTELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.