A white van swerved from side to side down a busy tourist street in Barcelona, killing and injuring numerous pedestrians.
Update: reports now confirm the number of victims to be 14, not 16 as reported earlier.
Authorities have labelled it a terrorist attack, with more than 100 others injured, including three Australians.
According to the ABC, the driver of the van deliberately mowed down visitors and locals in its path, driving around 500 metres down the popular Las Ramblas avenue, notorious for being packed with tourists.
It’s the worst attack on Spain since the 2004 Al Quaeda-inspired attack on a Madrid train that saw 192 people killed, and bears chilling similarities to other recent terror attacks involving vehicles, including Nice, France last year, and London earlier this year.
Per ABC, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has confirmed one woman believed to be from NSW was in a serious but stable condition, while two other Aussie males who were injured returned to their hotel, to be treated the following morning.
In a press conference this morning, Bishop gave her advice to any travelling Aussies.
“My advice to any Australians in the area would be to ensure that they stay in their hotels, abide by any directions by local authorities and obviously listen to local media reports,” she said.
“But contact our consular officials if they need support and help.”
Per the Sydney Morning Herald, two suspects were arrested, with the driver still at large. However, a police shootout saw several attackers, reportedly responsible for terrorist attack in Cambrils, south-west of Barcelona, killed. It’s not known if these attackers are linked to the Barcelona van attack.
Per ABC, Catalonia Regional Head Carles Puigdemont said 100 people had been hospitalised, while the Regional Interior Chief Joaquim Forn added, “Unfortunately the number of fatalities will likely rise”.
Police also were reported saying the attackers appeared to have “the aim of killing as many people as possible”.
Speaking to the ABC, Australian woman Susan McLean said her first instinct upon seeing people’s fearful faces was that it was a terrorist attack.
“All of a sudden there was a tidal wave of people running down the pedestrian street screaming and crying and clearly in fear of their lives, and we just bolted into the nearest shop,” she told the publication.
Police shut down and cordoned off the busy tourist street, as well as neighbouring shops and nearby Metro stations.
The Las Ramblas avenue is typically full of stalls and shops that cuts through the heart of Barcelona, providing pedestrians with a wide boulevarde to walk down, flanked by roads running on either side.
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) August 18, 2017
Freelance journalist and eyewitness Tyson Shine told ABC it would’ve been packed with tourists, given the summer peak season right now.
“It’s not just Spanish people that are affected by this attack, but it is people all throughout Europe, because a lot of people have friends and relatives who are vacationing here at the moment,” Shine told ABC.
The travel industry has unfortunately been dominated by news of terrorism and travelling fears, in particular how these attacks cripple people’s capacity to feel safe abroad, and confident that they can roam foreign countries freely.
Many attacks are followed by a strong gathering of people to show their support and to stand up against the fear terrorism aims to instill in people, with reports circling of a vigil for victims in Barcelona already.
Our own industry leaders have offered their own words of advice on terrorism and tourism, and how agents can best support concerned clients.
It comes not long after an ad was released in the UK advising travellers on how to react in the event of a lone gunman style terror attack.
The Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said in a press conference, “Today the fight against terrorism is the principal priority for free and open societies like ours.
“It is a global threat and the response has to be global.”
Barcelona remains in lockdown, with many hotels, shops and restaurants still closed, after being initially shut down when the attack unfolded.
Per the ABC, a Manager at heritage centre La Palau Moja, Carol Augustin, 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,” she told ABC.
“There were families with children. The police made us close the doors and wait inside.”
The Catalan government has declared three days of mourning for victims of the tragic attack.