BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — A white van plowed into a packed summer crowd Thursday in Barcelona’s historic Las Ramblas district, killing some people and sending dozens fleeing. Barcelona police called it a terror attack and local media reported up to 13 dead.
Catalan police tweeted “there are mortal victims and injured from the crash” without specifying any numbers. Spanish media, including Cadena SER radio station and TV3, reported up to 13 dead, while other media had varying death tolls.
Police cordoned off the broad street that is so popular with tourists, ordering stores and nearby Metro and train stations to close. They asked people to stay away from the area so as not to get in the way of emergency services. A helicopter hovered over the scene.
Quoting unnamed police sources, the El Pais newspapers said the two perpetrators of the crash were holed up in a bar in Tallers Street. Armed police ran down the streets and through a market, checking in stores and cafes, presumably in search of them.
In photographs and videos, at least five people could be seen lying on the ground in the streets of the northern Spanish city Thursday afternoon, being helped by police and others. Other video recorded people screaming as they fled the van.
Las Ramblas, a street of stalls and shops that cuts through the center of Barcelona, is one of the city’s top tourist destinations. People walk down a wide, pedestrian path in the center of the street but cars can travel on either side.
Keith Fleming, an American who lives in Barcelona, was watching TV in his building just off Las Ramblas when he heard a noise and went out to his balcony.
“I saw women and children just running and they looked terrified,” he said.
He said there was a bang — possibly from someone rolling down a store shutter — and more people ran by. Then police arrived and pushed everyone a full block away. Even people leaning out of doors were being told to go back inside, he said.
Fleming said regular police had their guns drawn and riot police were at the end of his block, which was now deserted.
“It’s just kind of a tense situation,” Fleming said. “Clearly people were scared.”
Carol Augustin, a manager at La Palau Moja, an 18th-century place on Las Ramblas that houses government offices and a tourism information center, said the van passed right in front of the building.
“We saw everything. People started screaming and running into the office. It was such a chaotic situation. There were families with children. The police made us close the doors and wait inside,” she said.
Cars, trucks and vans have been the weapon of choice in multiple extremist attacks in Europe in the last year.
The most deadly was the driver of a tractor-trailer who targeted Bastille Day revelers in the southern French city of Nice in July 2016, killing 86 people. In December 2016, 12 people died after a driver used a hijacked trick to drive into a Christmas market in Berlin.
There have been multiple attacks this year in London, where a man in a rented SUV plowed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing four people before he ran onto the grounds of Parliament and stabbed an unarmed police officer to death in March.
Four other men drove onto the sidewalk of London Bridge, unleashing a rampage with knives that killed eight people in June. Another man also drove into pedestrians leaving a London mosque later in June.