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Witness Describes Scene At Paris Restaurant Where Attacks Began


At this point, it looks as if a series of attacks in and around Paris this evening has left more than a hundred people dead. And many of those died in a concert hall in the French capital, and attacks may have happened at up to six other sites. The city is frozen. People are being told to stay home. We've reached Erin AllWeiss. She hasn't been able to leave the restaurant where she was tonight when the attacks first started. And Erin, tell us where this restaurant is. Is it anywhere near where the attacks were - any of the attack sites tonight?

ERIN ALLWEISS: Yeah, hi. We're just three doors down actually from where one of the attacks happened on Rue de la Folie-Mericourt in the 11th arrondissement. And we were sitting at dinner, and all of a sudden, there was commotion. We're still in the restaurant. You can hear everyone is still with me. We haven't left. But we were sitting at the table, and all of a sudden, there were screams, and they locked the doors. And we thought that there were going to push through the doors. And we heard gunshots that were clearly gunshots, and everyone went under the table, hiding. And afterwards it was quiet. And one of the photographers we were with - 'cause we're with a group photo from Terry Photo (ph) - he went and he took some photographs and we saw - and there were a reported 10 people who were killed at the restaurant three doors down.

CORNISH: And we should remind people that many restaurants in Paris, they have a terrace, lots of chairs out front. So an attack on a restaurant like that, it could leave many injured and killed.

ALLWEISS: Yes, exactly. It was a Paris restaurant. We saw that, and we were at a restaurant that was on a little side street. And there were 20 of us meeting. If I had been 10 minutes later, I would've run into them. I was 10 minutes late actually, and I had just grabbed the car. And I'm thankful that I did.

CORNISH: You express concerns that someone might push through the doors. Describe what was happening. Why did you feel that?

ALLWEISS: We saw - there was just a commotion, and we were sitting at a long table by the window. And we could see a group of people walking by. There was a curtain, so it was hard to gauge what was happening exactly. But there was enough commotion that it was clear that there were people who were rushing by. And the woman, who's lovely, owns the restaurant started to scream and shut the door. And then we all hid under the table once we started to hear the gunfire, which I've been told were AK-47s. I didn't see them, but that's what we were told. And they were incredibly loud.

CORNISH: So you hear these AK-47s. You dive under the table. How long are you in that position? When do you decide it's safe to come out?

ALLWEISS: We were just sitting there for about - I want to say it was 30 seconds, but it felt like a few minutes. And all of us were shaking. And it was a long - it felt like a very long 30 seconds. And we were all thankful that it wasn't - the restaurant that they had pushed through wasn't our door, and yet we didn't know exactly what had happened. We stayed put. But again we were with a handful of photographers, and one went out. And he took some photographs, and we all saw what had happened. But it wasn't clear that this was a part of a group of attacks. And so all of us turned to our phones very quickly, and we saw that there had been an attack on a stadium and began to wonder if this was a bigger incident and not just isolated.

CORNISH: You mention being with a group of photographers. Can you describe any of the images? Did they share anything with you?

ALLWEISS: They did share some, and what I saw were people who - you can't tell if they're lying down or what's happening, if they're ducking. But they are - I clearly saw it, and I believe they are dead. And there were people sort of hailing for help. And it took a long time actually to hear sirens. I think we all assumed that someone had called the police. So I would say probably 10 minutes went by before we heard sirens, and now on the street, no one can get through. So we're all still in the restaurant. There's a baby here. There are probably 40 people, and everyone's not sure what to do, when we can go out. But the police are still there on our street.

CORNISH: And what are people around you saying? I mean, you're all stranded there. I don't know if the managers in the restaurant are coming up. How are you guys kind of huddling and coping?

ALLWEISS: Thankfully, I think the managers were trying to go about being normal and offering us food, which no one was hungry enough to eat and everyone was glued to their phones. So it was one of those strange moments of everybody on their phones, checking in with people, posting to Facebook, letting people know that there were all right and also trying to figure out what was going on, if this was a more coordinated attack or if this was something that was, again, isolated to our area. It quickly became clear that this is far more grave than just what happened on our street.

CORNISH: That's Erin AllWeiss. She's stranded at a Paris restaurant. She spoke to us live from Paris. Thank you so much, Erin.

ALLWEISS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.