B.C. woman sees Paris carnage first-hand as Canadians in France left reeling

Cherie Hanson of Kelowna, B.C., says she heard people screaming in pain outside the apartment where she is staying in Paris near the concert venue where scores of people were killed. She opened her door to wounded victims.

'There were people yelling out in pain,’ says B.C. woman staying near music hall where deadly explosions hit

'I heard percussive explosive sounds and they were one after another, and then after that was a hail of machine-gun fire,' Cherie Hanson says 9:41

A B.C. woman in Paris said she heard a "hail of machine gun fire" in the alley below ther apartment where she is staying on Friday.

"People were screaming. There were people yelling out in pain and crying, 'Run, run,'" Cherie Hanson of Kelowna, B.C., told CBC News. "I couldn't see, but because of the way they sounded in the street, it was very clear to me they were dying." 

The unit is just two doors down from the Bataclan music hall, which became the scene of carnage where 89 people were killed.

The violent attacks in Paris hit too close for comfort for many Canadians in France, who are anxious to assure friends and family they are safe. 

Authorities say 129 people are dead and hundreds more are injured following a series of attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers who targeted a stadium, concert hall and restaurants Friday in and around Paris. 

Shot reporter 'didn't stop for a second'

Hanson's hosts went out into the street after hearing the screams and brought in a man shot in his upper thigh, she said. Later a reporter from the Parisian newspaper, La Presse, who was shot in the arm came in. 

Hanson said her hosts tended to the bleeding journalist as he worked. 

Cherie Hanson's hosts went out into the street after hearing screams and brought in a man shot in his upper thigh. Here, crews on Rue Charonne in Paris were cleaning up debris Saturday morning. (Submitted by Jessica Lad)

"He continued to file his story with his right hand, with his cell phone firmly in it. He didn't stop for a second," she said. 

The apartment became even more crowded, she said, when three armed police entered the home with rifles.

"They looked like a SWAT team; they did not look like regular police," Hanson said. "We assumed that they were checking to make sure none of the gunman had gotten away and had stowed away in any of the neighbouring apartments."

'It was very sombre, stoic'

Hanson, who is in Paris for a conference, said while her street was barricaded this morning, people were in the area quietly getting coffee and groceries. 

"It was very sombre, stoic. There was a sense that life would continue as usual," she said

But she's concerned about the long-term effects on people in Paris. 

"I feel like there is so much trauma that is around me," she said. 

'They kind of ignored it'

Josh Coles of Charlottetown, P.E.I., was in la Stade de France, north of the capital, watching an exhibition soccer match between the French and German national teams when he heard and felt the explosions outside. Three suicide bombs targeted spots around the national stadium. 

"I'd been to a couple of other soccer games around Europe. … It's pretty common for flares and fireworks to go off," he said. "Nobody jumped to suicide bombing. People just didn't know what to think, so they kind of ignored it."

Josh Coles of Charlottetown was in la Stade de France, north of the capital, watching an exhibition soccer match between the French and German national teams when explosions went off outside. (Handout)

The game continued, but about 10 minutes before the match ended, Coles said the mood shifted as people started checking their phones and leaving the stadium. 

That's when information started to trickle in about violence in the city. 

"It was surreal because, at first, we didn't really know the explosions were anything serious. The first things we started to hear was there were gunfights in Paris," he said. 

Although he initially tried to leave on public transit, Coles said the street outside the stadium was flooded with crowds and he joined the hundreds of people running back inside. 

He waited on the turf for the all-clear, receiving a flurry from messages from people in France and at home. Cell service was so bad that it he couldn't respond, which only added to the stress. 

It took almost three hours for Coles to make his way back to a friend's house, further away from the scenes of the attacks than the youth hostel where he had booked. 

Connecting with home

It was only after connecting online and watching the news that he was able to absorb the full extent of the attacks. 

"I didn't really feel that I was personally in danger last night. My big thing was just letting everyone that was worried about me know that I was OK," Coles said.

"People at home just assumed it was a war zone around the city, whereas in reality, it was isolated to some small areas."

Jessica Lad is a Canadian tourist who was in her Paris hotel room when the attacks happened, one of the cafés that was hit just a block away. 

Jessica Lad was in her Paris hotel room when the attacks unfolded 2:52

"I actually went out. I wanted to go see what was going on," she said. "It was an eerie kind of a ghost-town type feel. All you could hear was sirens in the background." 

Most of the nearby streets were blocked off by the military, she said. By Saturday, people had gathered to grieve and lay flowers on the sidewalks. 

"I was really nervous. Coming from a place like Toronto, Canada. This stuff doesn't happen and it seems like a world away when it does. It was almost a numbing feeling of I don't even know what to do with myself."

Hits close to home

Elsewhere in France, a Canadian teacher said she's still trying to process what happened in the city she now calls home. 

Lanette Comeau, originally from Clare, N.S., is on vacation in Bordeaux, France, and checking in with friends, family and colleagues. 

"I've been actually kind of overwhelmed with all the messages and phone calls I've received in the past few hours," she said Saturday morning. "When something like this happens, you really notice that even though you're far you're not forgotten."

The Bataclan music hall is close to her own workplace.

"It hits close to home," she said.

Coles, who has been in France for about six weeks on a cycling trip, said he will contact the Canadian Embassy but plans to lay low in the city until his flight home on Nov. 19. 

"It's a unique experience to live through something like this. A couple friends of mine have stressed, 'You're here for a very historic event.' A bad, but historic, event."

Lanette Comeau, of Clare, N.S., pictured here with her husband Ratana Phear, plans to return to her home in Paris Sunday night. (Submitted by Lanette Comeau)

With files from Elizabeth McMillan and Blair Sanderson


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