The shutters were down in shops and businesses across central Paris. At those restaurants and cafes which did open to sparse groups of customers, there was an eerie solemnity. Muted by shock and sadness, the French capital yesterday woke to the reality of 128 people dead and the challenge of how to respond to the deadliest attack on France since the second world war.
Sirens wailed in half-empty streets as doctors battled to save the most critical cases among more than 200 injured and put out an urgent call for donations of blood and organs.
The scale of the carnage also meant that many people were still frantically seeking news of missing loved ones hours after the attacks ended and all eight gunmen and suicide bombers were dead. One social media post read: “Waleed is missing. We last contacted him at the match. Please share & contact me if u have any info. #rechercheParis”. Another said: “I’ve been looking for my cousin since last night ... He’s 25 and I’m 75. He’s called Younes. #rechercheParis.”
The pleas illustrated poignantly how the attackers cut a swath through all of Paris society, without respect for age, race, religion or nationality.
Among France’s Muslims there was both mourning and worry that the acts of a handful of fanatics would be seen as representative of their religion. After a night of carnage and chaos at six spots across the city’s heart, President Francois Hollande declared a state of emergency and said the attacks were an “act of war” perpetrated by Islamic State.
The president urged people to stay indoors yesterday. Not everyone heeded his call, however. At the Georges Pompidou hospital a long queue of people snaked around the foyer. “They are waiting to give blood,” said Dr Philippe Juvin, head of emergency services at the hospital. “They have just come without being asked, spontaneously.”
One donor, 29-year-old William Haddad, who lives near Le Carillon, where 14 people were gunned down, said: “I am in good shape and so I can give blood. It’s the least I can do to help. We have to help, to have this sense of belonging.”
For his part, Juvin looked exhausted, having worked throughout the night, grabbing two hours’ sleep after dawn still wearing his creased white coat. On Friday night the hospital went into ‘Plan White, he said. “It was very rapid, a call, the ambulances, then we had 50 to 60 people with gunshot wounds arriving. I have never experienced anything like it, but we are coping. We have been training for something like this. The response was astonishing. Doctors from all over turned up to offer help.”
In reception, a woman was sobbing, having heard that her boyfriend had suffered devastating abdominal injuries. “My love. Why did this happen?” she screamed, as her parents tried to wrap their arms round her. A nurse stood by in tears.
“We are very aware that many will be in trauma,” added Juvin. “We had a psychiatrist here last night and another will come later today. We have to treat both the physical and the psychological injuries.” Yesterday afternoon, mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, announced that she had opened a psychological support group for Parisians.
The trauma was felt even by those not directly caught up in the attacks. Lucille Simon, 24, had to stay at a friend’s house because her apartment was near the Bataclan concert venue and was sealed off. “I am terrified. You don’t feel safe any more in Paris. I like living here. Even after Charlie Hebdo things returned to normal, but I’m starting to wonder maybe I should move. I’m frightened to go out in the street alone.”
The situation was summed up by Mandy Gilman, a New Yorker who has lived in the city for 26 years. “It is morose. But we have a spirit of calm in such times and Parisians will never be defeated by this. I still feel safer in Paris than in New York. This is the world we live in now, and this can happen everywhere.”