Monday 16 September 2019

Paris Terror Attacks: Wexford woman caught in Paris attacks feels lucky to be alive

Claire McCormack

Sinead Niamh O'Byrne, 25, tells Claire McCormack how she heard the automatic gunfire at the Bataclan from her home in the 11th district.

"I'm home alone. It's Friday night, so normally I would be out, but I have work in the morning, so I decided to stay home and watch a film. I cycled by the Bataclan this evening - there were queues of people waiting to get into the concert, one of whom was a friend of mine who I still haven't heard from.

"I'm home about half-an-hour and I think there are fireworks outside. I pause the film and go to the window expecting to see flashes in the sky. But it isn't fireworks, it is gunshots and explosions.

"I get a phone call from my friend and she tells me about the Stade de France attack and says to turn on the news. It's not getting any easier, it's progressively getting worse, spreading throughout the city.

"I'm shaking like a leaf, I call my mum and she calms me down, but it's lockdown - I can't leave my apartment until the panic is over and President Hollande has declared a national state of emergency and the borders are closed.

"It started around 9.30pm but it's still happening right now.

"My house is in between two of the areas of attack - the Bataclan and two locations along the Canal Saint-Martin. If I had been out walking I would have been in the middle of it, but I cycle so I'm quicker. I just got home half-an-hour before the attacks started.

"There are helicopters in the sky, it feels so surreal.

"The Bataclan is where the Boulevard Voltaire meets the Boulevard Richard Lenoir - where the Charlie Hebdo attacks occurred. The Bataclan is only three streets away from where the Charlie Hebdo attacks were.

"I'm following French news and English news and the attacks are spreading to different places. Everyone is just trying to make sure everyone is in safe.

"Two of my Irish girl friends were due to perform in a concert tonight and they had to wait for the France-Germany game to finish on their screen before they started and they were watching the game when the explosions happened and the panic spread. I'm texting and ringing them to see if they're okay.

"The 11th is the main 'going out' area. It is the Bastille neighbourhood, which is a very popular area, and Oberkampf, so it's exactly in the heart of the Friday night scene.

"I was at a concert in the Bataclan two weeks ago, so it's strange to think that the fantastic night I had there can be turned into this night of terror.

"I have a friend who is there right now and I haven't heard from him, so that is frightening. I'm trying to get hold of him.

"I can hear all the sirens and the helicopters. It has just been constant sirens, it's really scary.

"Oh my God, I can hear gunshots, it's definitely automatic guns. I'm going to the window, this is bizarre, I can't believe this is happening. Oh my God, the Bataclan, it's coming from the direction of the Bataclan.

"I'm just sitting on my window and I can see all my neighbours standing on their balconies, the sirens are ringing, the gunshots have stopped but it's definitely coming from the Bataclan.

"I just heard another big bang. The sirens are all coming from different directions. This is terrifying. With Charlie Hebdo, it was an attack on a building. They were attacking the ideology - this one feels random.

"It's going everywhere you can't link them. The Bataclan is a music venue, La Belle Equipe is a sports bar and Le Petit Cambodge is a Cambodian restaurant - there is no connection between any of these, it's not confined to one place.

"I can just tell in the morning that everyone is going to be relating this to Charlie Hebdo - it took about a month to get back to normal.

"I pass by the Charlie Hebdo offices every day to get to the Metro and there are still candles, pens, pencils and flowers on the ground. I'm not French but it affected me. I didn't think about coming home after Charlie Hebdo because I felt that the attack wasn't against me but this is even more frightening. This time they are targeting anyone. I feel like it could be anyone just walking down the street.

"This attack will make me consider coming home, I've been here for three-and-a-half years and I've earned my living here, but I may have to consider it.

"I'm in constant contact with my parents and my brothers right now. My dad has rung me three times already just to make sure that I'm not panicking. They know that I'm on my own and I can't leave or get to my friends.

"I can't think of how lucky I am to be here. I went to visit my friends in their bars earlier today to buy rugby tickets and I could have stayed out, I could have been there, so I'm ultimately quite lucky to be at home and safe. Even if I am right next to where it is all happening, I'm safe in my house.

"But on the streets it's mayhem. I won't be able to sleep tonight, it's been two hours of non-stop gunfire and artillery. Paris will be dead tomorrow - because no one will want to leave their houses."

Yesterday afternoon, Sinead got the bad news. Her friend who went to the concert was among the dead.

Sunday Independent

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