Two Nova Scotia women described fear and chaos in Barcelona on Thursday when a van was driven through a pedestrian zone in Barcelona, killing at least 13 people.

"We experienced the type of mass panic you only see in the movies. We were shopping in the direct area of today's attack and were rushed out of a store onto the sidewalk filled with people running, screaming and crying," Alexis Crossley told CBC News via social media.

Crossley and her sister Haley have been travelling in Europe for the last two weeks. Alexis's fiance Matt Miller works for the University of Arizona and was in Barcelona with the basketball team.

The sisters from Cole Harbour met up with Miller and were sightseeing in Barcelona Thursday afternoon. A white van sped down the Las Ramblas pedestrian zone, killing 13 people and injuring about another 100.

Spanish authorities say it was a terror attack and have arrested two people.

Alexis Crossley posed for a photo in front of Barcelona's iconic Sagrada Familia on Wednesday.

Alexis Crossley posed for a photo in front of Barcelona's iconic Sagrada Familia on Wednesday. (Facebook)

The Crossleys asked people what was happening, but couldn't understand the rapid Spanish answers.

"Everyone was rushing in the direction of our hotel so we joined in and quickly returned to the hotel," said Alexis.

Since then, they've stayed in the hotel to watch the news and tell family they are safe.

'Every single day is a gift'

"It was just kind of mind blowing," said Alexis. "We couldn't believe that we were that close to such a horrible attack, and we're just so thankful that we weren't a little further down the street. It is still just not even real to us, and it's really hard to wrap your head around it."

The two women will stay in Barcelona tonight and have another week in Europe. Alexis Crossley says they expect to be "paranoid" for the next stretch.

"While we considered changing travel plans, after today I think it might end up being more difficult to change than to just stick to the original plan," she said.

Crossley has been studying in the U.S. for several years and recently moved to Arizona. She says they will be "extremely cautious" and a little uneasy for the rest of the week.

"I will never understand why these things happen in our world, but what I know for sure is that every single day is a gift and I am so grateful to be safe with two of the most important people in my life."