As It Happens

Barcelona van attack witness describes the moment 'all hell let loose'

John Ward just got home from a morning of strolling along Las Ramblas in Barcelona when a van plowed into a group of pedestrians in front of his apartment.
People flee the scene in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 after a white van jumped the sidewalk in the historic Las Ramblas district, crashing into a summer crowd of residents and tourists.

Story transcript

John Ward just got home from a morning of strolling along Las Ramblas in Barcelona when a van plowed into a group of pedestrians in front of his apartment, killing at least 13 people and injuring more than 100.

"I went out this morning. I met a friend for lunch, came back, and was back I suppose an hour and then all hell let loose," John Ward, a British military veteran who has been living in Barcelona for more than a decade, told As It Happens guest host Mike Finnerty.

"So I was very lucky to be inside, because 20 metres from my front door, it could have been me out there."

The president of Spain's Catalonia region says police have arrested two people. He did not provide any further details.

Injured people are treated at the scene of the deadly attack. (Oriol Duran/Associated Press)

Ward spoke to As It Happens while standing on his balcony overlooking the aftermath of the deadly attack on Thursday. 

He described swarms of police officers surrounding a damaged van, empty with both doors open, which he said crashed into a news kiosk and a flower store before coming to a halt on top of a street mural.

He said he could see at least four dead bodies, and described in real time as a police officer lifted a blanket over the head of a deceased victim.

Ambulances were coming and going, he said, and paramedics were treating injured victims at the scene.

"I saw a couple of children being carried to an ambulance as well," he said. "It's not easy to see that — innocent kids."

As he was describing details, Ward admitted that he had not yet taken the time to process what happened.

"It hasn't sunk in. It's sort of surreal," he said.

"When I first looked out and I saw what was unfolding, I thought, 'Oh, they've got a very elaborate exercise going on here to test the emergency services.' And then it dawned on me that it wasn't an exercise. It was for real."

Still, he said, he wasn't surprised by the attack. He'd followed the news of similar incidents in his home country, including the deadly truck and knife attack on London's Westminster Bridge in June.

"I'm going to carry on best I can because I don't know how else to carry on, really," he said. "People in London going across Westminster Bridge, they carry on as best they can, so that's what we're going to do as well."


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