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Northern Ireland holiday makers tell of narrow escape as Nice terror truck attack left dozens dead

Coalisland man Damien Hughes (59) was just yards from the Nice seafront when the terrorist struck.

By Cate McCurry

Published 16/07/2016

The bullet-riddled truck used by the attacker. (Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)
The bullet-riddled truck used by the attacker. (Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)
The scene at the Promenade des Anglais seafront in the town hours after deadly attack
French Republican guards lower the French flag to half-mast at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris
People stand at a makeshift memorial to the victims
Survivor Zoe Tisdale
Survivor Damien Hughes

Northern Ireland holiday makers have spoken of their escape from terror after a truck driver ploughed through crowds along the French Riviera seafront killing at least 84 people.

Coalisland man Damien Hughes (59) was just yards from the Nice seafront when the terrorist struck.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, he said: "I'd been to the firework display. After it was over, I and a couple of friends went to the old town of Nice just a block away from the Promenade des Anglais.

"We were sitting outside one of the Irish bars there when crowds of panicked people began to stream in from the seafront.

"The police told us to get inside the bar and stay there.

"From the window, I could see distressed men and women running, some of them with frightened, distressed children.

"People said there had been some kind of shoot-out with some terrorists on the promenade. That's when I knew things were much more serious."

Mr Hughes said it was only a matter of sheer luck that he was not caught in the terror attack itself.

"It all happened only about 100 yards from me," he said.

"I've been thinking about that today.

"It's terrible to think of families taking their children to watch a fireworks display, the kids had probably been looking forward to it for weeks ... and then this deliberate attack on liberte, egalite and fraternite.

"That was what the terrorist wanted to destroy."

Last night the killer was named as 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a man of French-Tunisian origin who was not known to intelligence services.

He is said to have pulled a gun from the cab as part of the premeditated attack before being shot dead by police, with people fleeing into the sea in a bid to escape.

Hundreds of people were injured in the deadly attack while around 50 people are still fighting for their lives.

France has declared three days of national mourning following the atrocity

Co Antrim mother Zoe Tisdale (37), who is on holiday in the French city with her husband and two young children, described the moment they heard gunshots - and how they were only 200 yards from the 25-tonne truck when it ploughed through hundreds of people along Nice's seafront.

Zoe, from Ballyclare, was celebrating Bastille Day with her husband, Andrew (52) and their two children, Molly (11) and nine-year-old Finn on the beach at the Promenade des Anglais when the killer struck.

"We were making our way off the beach and on to the promenade when all of a sudden we heard gunshots and then people started running, screaming, shouting and all we could do was follow the crowd," she said.

"We knew something was not right as people ran into the side streets. All we knew is that we had to find a safe place and off the main area, we knew something bad had happened.

"We went up back streets with crowds and we were running next to French people and tried to ask them what was happening and a lady kept shouting 'shooting'. I felt we were in such danger and fleeing for our lives, we had to get the children safe."

Zoe described how the evening turned from a relaxed, friendly atmosphere to carnage in the streets on the French Riviera.

"All of a sudden people were panicking and no one knew what was happening, where to go or what to do," she said.

"We didn't realise what happened until we got back to the apartment and checked Twitter and saw all the pictures and we realised how lucky we were, that things could have been a lot worse, that we were involved in a horrific experience.

"Molly and Finn were very upset and we had to try and keep calm for them.

"Molly had flip-flops on and she had to take them off and run in her bare feet as we had to run so fast.

"We are still in shock and slept together in the one room as we wanted to be together. It seems a bit surreal and we know how lucky we have been."

The family, who are staying in Nice until Tuesday, returned to the promenade yesterday to lay flowers for the 84 people killed.

SDLP councillor Shauna Cusack from Londonderry had been visiting Nice with friends for a break and said she felt someone was watching over her after she changed her plans to go to the Promenade des Anglais at the last minute.

"We were watching the fireworks across the bay from where the attack actually happened, it was a lovely evening, but we went back to the hotel and couldn't believe what had transpired just a few miles down the road. It was just unbelievable," she said.

"It was where we had actually planned to go that evening, we'd planned to go back there for our last evening to watch the fireworks and join in the fun.

"We changed our mind at the last minute because there was a firework display being held locally, otherwise God knows what could have happened.

"Someone was looking after us.

"It's really hard to fathom, to take in the tragic loss of life for no reason."

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