Paris Wakes Up Under Siege After Deadliest Attack Since WWII
Parisians describe living through the attack that killed more than 120 people and left parts of the French capital virtually abandoned.
PARIS — The City of Light wakes up under siege.
Swaths of Paris are completely empty, with soldiers everywhere. Metro stations in several neighborhoods remain shut, and roads near Le Petit Cambodge, where a gunman open fired on diners, are blocked with red and white police cordons.
The typically lively streets in the city’s 11th arrondissement were unnervingly empty of revelers in the early hours of Saturday morning as restaurants and cafes closed down and people remained indoors. Throughout the area, the persistent wail of emergency sirens pierced through the clear, still night.
“It’s like a warzone right now,” said a middle-aged worker at the brasserie Le Goncourt who refused to give his name. “This is very serious. We are living in fear.”
Shortly after midnight, the police issued a shelter in place order, leaving just a few stragglers along Avenue Parmentier.
“We can’t go anywhere,” a man named Jonathan said near the site of the first shooting. “The city is in a crisis.”
His companion Sarah interrupted at the sound of a dull bang in the distance.
“Was that another explosion? Did you hear that?”
Carmela Uranga, 47, a British-born mother of two young children, saw the first part of the attack unfold below her window near Le Petit Cambodge restaurant and Le Carillon bar in the 10th arrondissement where a gunman killed dozens.
She was shocked and horrified by what she saw just under her window.
“People were running all over the place and then I saw bodies lying on the street,” Uranga told The Daily Beast from Paris via telephone. “It was so surreal. I still can’t believe I saw what I saw. I live in this wonderful, vital place which is like a small village in the midst of Paris. And I saw bodies!”
Uranga pictured herself among them.
“The thing is, it could have been me and my kids. We’re out there all the time. We get takeaway from the Cambodian restaurant all the time.”
As she surveyed the carnage below her window on Rue Bichat, she saw two men she believes were the shooters get in what she said appeared to be a “getaway” car with Belgian license plates.
“There was a driver and a passenger. I saw the passenger very clearly. He looked so young, 18, no more than 20 at the oldest. There was no doubt in my mind these were the shooters. They were leaving the scene so calmly.”
On Boulevard Voltaire, near the Bataclan nightclub and concert hall, where another attack and an ensuing hostage situation left more than 100 dead, a crowd of journalists and residents gathered behind the police cordon. Several people stood beneath the Saint Ambroise bus station swapping bits of information and trying to comprehend what was happening to their city.
“I heard there are at least 70 dead,” one woman said.
“No, it’s more than that,” a man next to her countered.
Diedra Liepelt of San Diego was one of the first to hear that her daughter’s friend, a hostage inside the theater, had survived.
“He’s crying and traumatized but he survived!” Liepelt told The Daily Beast via telephone.
The attacks might be too much for one American who’s lived in France for more than 25 years.
Andrea Renner Ipaktchi, an illustrator and the mother of two teenage boys, left her Paris home to find her sons the minute she heard about the attacks.
“I had to go out in the car and round up my children,” Ipaktchi said. “We are all safe and sound but at what price. I took my son out of the James Bond movie before it was over. It’s just horrific. I am dreaming of moving back to the States. I can’t stand it here anymore.”
Several people who had been evacuated from the Bataclan huddled beneath a restaurant awning beyond the cordon, wrapped in silver blankets issued by emergency workers. Police with automatic weapons patrolled the street. A steady stream of emergency vehicles passed through the cordon in the direction of the nightclub.
“It is shocking,” said Jean Louis Saur, a fiftysomething doctor who lives on the block adjacent to Bataclan. I came out of my house and didn’t know what was going on. Then my children called and told me they were safe.”
Around 2:30 a.m. emergency workers in orange vests loaded Bataclan evacuees onto buses and took them to the police prefecture down the street. A small crowd of journalists and onlookers gathered as the dazed survivors were quickly ushered inside.
Outside, some people lingered near the police station, seemingly unsure of where to go or what to do next.
“I am just an observer,” a man kept mumbling before the police shooed him away.
Around Place Léon Blum, people searched in vain for ways out of the area. No buses or metros were running, and every passing taxi was unavailable.
A few motorists were kind enough to offer rides to stranded pedestrians and journalists. One was Ali Said, 28, a server who also lives near the Bataclan, and offered to drive me back to my apartment across town.
“It is not logical,” he told me as we drove through the empty streets, the sound of sirens still lingering in the distance.