Barcelona – Las Ramblas, a popular promenade in the centre of Barcelona, was transformed in seconds into the tragic scene of a terrorist attack on Thursday evening, leaving people from dozens of countries dead and injured.
Just a few hours later police shot dead five apparent terrorists in the resort town of Cambrils to the south-west of the tourist mecca, in a double blow to the region of Catalonia.
In Las Ramblas, pedestrians were flung into the air, the dead and injured lay sprawled on the pavement, as survivors ran for safety in panic.
“People were lying on the pavement, covered in blood. I don’t know whether they were still alive,” said a young German tourist, her face stiff with shock and disbelief. She declined to provide her name.
The normally laid-back city is itself in shock. “How can anyone have so much hatred in his mind that he runs down children? For what is he trying to avenge himself,” queries Lorenzo, lifting his arms helplessly.
“Whatever may have happened to the man, an act of this kind can simply not be comprehended,” the local resident said as he waited with his wife to be allowed back to their home in the direct vicinity of the attack.
“It’s still not safe,” was the word from the police until past midnight as they prevented hundreds of residents and tourists from entering a large cordoned-off area around the site of the atrocity.
The street quietly reopened on Friday morning, and in a square nearby, a minute’s silence was held to remember the victims, now totalling 14.
During the night, police and hotel staff guided groups of nervous holidaymakers through the streets around the attack site to get them safely to their hotels after dark. Some still tried to pass the police tape before being moved on by officers.
“It’s just 18 metres to our hotel,” said Russian tourist Yuri in irritation. “But they won’t let us through. They say constantly that they will in 10 minutes.”
He compared the attack to the metro attack in St. Petersburg. “No one is truly safe anymore. It’s a matter of luck,” Yuri said.
Strangers comforted each other, with even police officers armed with automatic weapons putting a consoling arm around passers-by, as ambulances raced past, their sirens sounding.
In Cambrils to the south-west, where police gunned down five suspected terrorists, seven people were injured, two of them seriously.
Tens of thousands of motorists were stuck for up to four hours in tailbacks, as police set up roadblocks to check their cars one by one.
Judith and Augusto from Mexico were among those waiting outside the police cordon in Barcelona to get to their hotel.
Sitting on the kerb they were glad to be unscathed. “We were there at the scene of the attack just 20 minutes ago,” Judith said.
“We are used to violence – abductions, shoot-outs between gangs of drug smugglers, contract killers and so on, but attacks like this don’t happen in Mexico,” she said shaking her head.
“We had come to Spain to have a holiday in peace, and now this,” Augusto said.
“Where are you safe now – perhaps on the moon,” Judith said, answering her own question.