An AFP reporter had to shield his face from the flying debris as he watched a truck plough at full-speed into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day in Nice on Thursday night, leaving at least 84 people dead.
“It was absolute chaos,” said the AFP correspondent Robert Holloway, who was among the crowd gathered to watch the fireworks for France's national day on the beachfront Promenade des Anglais.
“We saw people hit and bits of debris flying around,” he said. “I had to protect my face from flying debris.”
The correspondent described the moment that the large white truck plunged into crowds of people who had come to the bustling Mediterranean beachfront to celebrate.
Terrified people screamed and scattered as it veered down the promenade, where adults and children were walking towards the famous Negresco Hotel.
Nice prosecutor Jean-Michel Pretre said the truck drove two kilometres (1.3 miles) through the crowd, mowing people down in what one local official has called a “major criminal attack”.
“For a big truck like that to get actually onto the promenade and then to go in a fairly straight line along there, looked to me like a very deliberate act,” the reporter Holloway said.
“It was about 100 metres from me and I had a few seconds to get out of the way.”
Journalist Damien Allemand from local newspaper Nice Matin wrote on Medium that when he first heard the noises, his first thought was a firework accident.
“But a fraction of a second later, a huge white track appeared at breakneck speed, swerving around to mow down a maximum number of people,” he wrote.
“This truck of death came within a few metres of me and I didn’t realize it. I saw bodies flying like bowling pins.”
Allemand described the aftermath of the scene as “lifeless bodies every five metres, body parts, blood. Wailing.”
Earlier in the evening, as the crowds enjoyed the fireworks, lightning had flashed in the skies above the Riviera resort.
Other witnesses described hearing gunfire, although this was not immediately confirmed by the authorities.
Police could be seen surrounding the truck in the early hours of Friday, its windscreen riddled with bullet holes, under the lights of the Negresco Hotel.
Australian Emily Watkins said she was less than 50 metres away from the incident and saw the truck on the promenade but did not realise what was happening.
“There was a lot of confusion. I don't actually remember seeing the truck moving,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“There was a lot of screams coming from ahead of us where the truck was, and people just running towards us and without really knowing what was going on we turned and ran as well.
“As we were running away we could hear what I thought at the time were more flares or fireworks.
“People were tripping over and trying to get into hotel lobbies and restaurants or car parks or anywhere they could to get away from the street.”
Her partner David Cody, an ABC producer, added: “People were tripping over in the commotion, there was a lot of panic.
“People were trying to get into hotels, any businesses that were open, trying to take shelter, because it was unclear what was happening.
“With each bang that we heard behind us, people perhaps started to go a bit faster, people were tripping over, it was a very chaotic scene.”
Witness Roy Calley, who said he lived 200 metres from the promenade, told the BBC there was “all hell breaking loose” and the situation was “pretty horrendous”.
“It was a celebratory atmosphere, it was fun, people were enjoying themselves.
Suddenly I heard a huge, what I can only describe as maybe an explosion or a crash.
A lot of people were screaming. That was followed by what I thought were maybe gunshots.”