Bomb scare in Paris Fan Zone at Euro 2016
TNP'S NEIL HUMPHREYS recalls the horrifying moment pandemonium struck Paris' Euro 2016 Fan Zone during the Germany v Italy match
Men and women were screaming. Confused children were crying, their Italian and German colours streaking down their cheeks yesterday morning (Singapore time).
They were running at me, thousands of them, not in small groups or hundreds, but tens of thousands of them.
As the tsunami of terrified people drew closer, swelling in number all the time, some shouted themselves hoarse sending out that most emotive of warnings.
Bomb! Bomb! Bomb!
It was a panic-stricken stampede.
Just two hours earlier, the Paris Fan Zone hosted the latest Euro 2016 party, with two proud football tribes sharing selfies and beers. Children of various nationalities played football together.
Now they were screaming, some falling in front of me, trampled underfoot for the crime of being too slow, too fragile. Parents stopped to grab their distraught children only to be knocked over by the next wave, and the next, and the next.
They charged relentlessly, desperate to flee the "bomb" behind them, near the giant screen in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower's illuminations.
The rhythmic footsteps over my shoulder turned from a quiet, ominous hum to a deafening, violent roar. Everyone was running now, with no idea where they were headed or why.
Shoved in the back, I had no choice but to join the fleeing herd, hurdling over an older guy who had lost his balance. I tried to grab his hand, but an elbow prodded me hard in the shoulders, knocking me over him.
Others fell trying to help. A woman, shielding her little girl, cried out in fear, begging others not to step on her daughter.
In all directions, the warning voices grew louder.
Bomb! Bomb! Bomb!
No one had seen or heard anything, at least those who had previously stood with me at the back of the crowd, tens of thousands of people, watching extra time of a quarter-final that suddenly had no meaning.
But still, we ran away.
A genuine terror scare, as I suddenly realised for the first time, strikes the stomach first. A sinking, overwhelming sense of nausea muddies the mind.
An act of terrorism, real or suspected, destroys logic, replacing it with internal chaos. Common sense is immediately replaced with a Darwinist instinct to survive, to move, to run, in any direction, in the dark, away from whatever is over the shoulder, whatever is driving thousands of people to trample over picnicking families and small children to escape.
And still, the warnings kept coming.
Bomb! Bomb! Bomb!
I reached the back of the Paris Fan Zone, where armed police officers passed me, running in the opposite direction, towards the chaos calmly, bravely, heroically.
When marksmen took up combat positions in front of me, using the cover of a nearby wall to cock their automatic weapons, I knew what it meant to be truly terrified.
I've been mugged twice in London, both times at knifepoint, but never seriously thought I was in real jeopardy. This was different.
To be confronted by an approaching wall of screaming people, to see fear in the eyes of thousands and watch policemen prepare to shoot down the alleged source of that fear stirs the most primal emotions.
I thought of my loved ones. So I did what others around me appeared to be doing.
THE WRONG THINGS
I called my wife and said all the wrong things.
"Hello. You might see something on TV and I don't want you to panic. There's a terror scare in Paris. It sounds like a bomb. But don't worry. I'm fine."
Now other people were crying, on the end of thousands of phones.
After the frantic calls, we gathered, in our thousands, at the far side of Champ de Mars and demanded information from equally confused, and equally terrified, volunteers - most of them unpaid, most of them too young.
Finally, police reassured stunned supporters that it was a false alarm.
A moron had released either a flare or a firecracker near the main stage, causing a bang loud enough to resurrect tragedies too recent in the memory.
The Paris attacks loom large in the city's consciousness. Paranoia and uncertainty hang over its residents, an unease that only needs an idiot with more firecrackers than brain cells to trigger mayhem.
At least two-thirds of the crowd had fled the site, leaving behind shoes, clothes and bags - which only added to the apprehension.
Policemen had to check every left bag for obvious reasons. No one else dared approach them, a circle of unease left around each piece of lost property.
Suddenly, there was more screaming. A mother had been separated from her son, in a venue filled with tens of thousands. He could've been anywhere.
Police comforted the hysterical woman and then set off in search of a needle in a hay stack.
The football on the giant screens was accompanied by an eerie silence.
And then, something rather wonderful happened. Those that stayed started to shuffle forward again, towards the screen, towards the very spectacle that had brought them to the fan zone in the first place.
It would be foolish and trite to make a silly reference to Bill Shankly's misquoted quote about football being more important than life and death because it isn't. Of course it isn't.
But, for half an hour, as mums and dads cuddled their weeping children, it was all we had. And it was enough.
People were screaming, there were lots of people in tears and there were lots of women with only one shoe afterwards, because they had been running like mad.
— Daily Mail reporter Thomas Burrows
It was a terrifying experience. I ran for my life along with women and children being trampled. Scariest moment of my life.
— John Howell
I saw sheer panic. It was everyone for himself. There was no direction, no one knew what was happening. Everyone just ran.
— Ali Gourlay