A truck smashed into a crowd in the French resort of Nice, killing at least 84 people in what President Francois Hollande on Friday called a “terrorist” attack on revellers enjoying a Bastille Day fireworks display.
The driver was shot dead after barrelling the truck two kilometres (1.3 miles) through the festive crowd on the palm-lined Promenade des Anglais, sending hundreds fleeing in terror and leaving the area strewn with bodies.
Authorities said they found identity papers belonging to a 31-year-old French-Tunisian citizen in the truck, as well as “guns” and “larger weapons”.
The attack was of an “undeniable terrorist nature,” a sombre Hollande said in a televised national address, confirming that several children were among the dead as families came together to celebrate France’s national day.
The bloodshed came on Bastille Day, a celebration of everything France holds dear, its secular republic and the values of “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” (Freedom, Equality, Fraternity).
The attacker struck after a day of military pomp and ceremony in Paris — where armed forces, tanks and fighter jets swooped down the Champs Elysees avenue — and spectacular firework displays.
“France was struck on its national day … the symbol of freedom,” said Hollande.
A photograph showed the front of the truck riddled with bullet holes and badly damaged, with burst tyres.
A lone doll lay abandoned on the promenade where families celebrated the holiday just hours earlier.
Robert Holloway, an AFP reporter who witnessed the white truck driving at speed into the crowd, described scenes of “absolute chaos”.
“We saw people hit and bits of debris flying around. I had to protect my face from flying debris,” he said.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters on the scene that the death toll stood at 80, with scores injured including 18 in “critical condition”.
On Twitter, people mobilised fast, with citizens offering safe refuge under the hashtag #PortesOuvertesNice (Nice Open Doors).
An account called SOS Nice was set up where desperate pleas for news of missing loved ones went out with pictures of a young girl with braces or a teenager pulling a funny face among those posted.
Some were quickly tracked down, according to relieved tweets.