Paris on Edge as Stampede at Republique Spreads Unfounded Panicby
Friday attacks claimed 129 lives, left more than 300 injured
Parisians were asked to stay home as security stepped up
The guitarist on Place de la Republique was strumming through the final chords of Supertramp’s Goodbye Stranger when the stampede started late Sunday.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of people had gathered on the square in the east of Paris in a show of solidarity and defiance following Friday’s terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of at least 129 people. They broke into spontaneous renditions of La Marseillaise and chants of ‘Liberte’ -- freedom -- just as they had after the January attack on Charlie Hebdo. All it took to shatter that fragile atmosphere was a few firecrackers.
The panic spread from the north-west corner of the square a little before 7 p.m. No-one knew what had happened but they weren’t going to think twice: everyone ran. Some yelled for the throng to slow down as the horde risked becoming a crush and they feared that some might be trampled underfoot.
The crowd fled for stairwells and public car parks. They avoided cafes, fearing a repeat of Friday, when bars and restaurants were targeted by the gunmen. Some were in tears, having become separated from loved ones amidst the confusion. Cellphones were pulled out of pockets by shaking hands, initially to try and find one another, then to establish where they had wound up. Many had blindly fled down back alleys and side roads. Motorbikes that revved a little too hard or cars that accelerated a little too fast prompted people afresh to shy away from doorways and windows.
When rumors circulated that shots had been fired on Place de la Republique, people sought to put as many walls as possible between themselves and the road. Then word spread that a cafe several hundred yards away had also taken gunfire.
Neither account was true: it transpired the panic was started by little more than some ‘petards’ -- the firecrackers which are a staple of French school playground pranksters.
It was a far cry from the dignified mourning of those affected by the attacks in another part of the city. At the Ecole Militaire, the military academy in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, where support services were being provided to families and friends of victims, as well as those present for the attacks, many hugged and wiped tears from their eyes, consoling each other as they left the sandstone complex.
Paris is a city very much on edge.