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World & Nation

Nice’s Promenade des Anglais reopens, drawing throngs of mourners

Nice attack
Mourners place flowers, candles and messages at a makeshift memorial on Nice’s seaside promenade on July 16, 2016.
(Giuseppe Cacace / AFP/Getty Images)

The fashionably dressed Italian woman, in skinny jeans and sunglasses, dissolved into tears. A passing Red Cross volunteer enveloped her in a long hug.

The Promenade des Anglais — the gracefully curving seaside boulevard in this Riviera resort city that became a tableau of horror Thursday night when a truck barreled through a celebratory crowd — reopened on Saturday, drawing throngs of mourners who struggled to come to terms with what had transpired there.

People grieved in their own way. Some laid flowers. Some wept. Some simply stood stock-still and hushed.   

A toddler of about 18 months, oblivious to the distress around him, was beaming proudly as he carried a single red rose in plastic packaging. It was nearly as long as he was tall, and dragged on the ground.

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The sight of the little boy was a chilling reminder that nearly one in eight of the dead in Thursday night’s carnage were children: of the 84 confirmed as killed, 10 were minors, French authorities said. Dozens more youngsters remained hospitalized, some in critical condition.

Along a sweep of seafront, makeshift shrines appeared, dotting the sun-splashed sidewalk. A French woman with white hair scraped into a glamorous bun and a flowing bohemian dress placed tea lights and small icons of the Virgin Mary on the walkway. A much bigger heap of flowers, cards, candles and homemade tributes covered a narrow, grassy traffic divider.

As is always the case with such events, private grief was also an intensely public spectacle. Those who came to the promenade to pay tribute were surrounded by dozens of journalists with TV cameras and notepads, speaking languages from Swedish to Hindi. Big television trucks were parked in the spot where emergency vehicles had converged on Thursday night as rescuers rushed to help.

Elsewhere in Nice, though, the city reasserted its customary touristic character.

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In the medieval streets of the Old Town, cafes were filled with people, and sightseers snapped pictures of graceful old landmark buildings. On the main shopping boulevards, locals and visitors alike toted bags of merchandise.

The city’s usual languid pleasures were punctuated by visible signs of heightened security. At the airport, border guards checked passports of passengers arriving from elsewhere in the European Union, usually a formality-free entry. And amid ancient archways and darting traffic, watchful and heavily armed French troops patrolled in groups of four to six.

To help traumatized people cope with their distress, the Red Cross set up a walk-in clinic near the scene of the promenade attack, manned by volunteer psychologists.  Some 300 people sought succor there the day after the attack, said Bernard Muscolo, one of the volunteering therapists.

One of those who needed comfort, he said, was a 4-year-old boy. Adults didn’t know how to answer their children’s questions or calm their nightmares. And grown-ups were wary of projecting their own fears onto the little ones.

Muscolo, bespectacled with a gentle manner, said those who had been caught up in the attack were confiding to mental health counselors that they felt a chaotic mix of emotions: sadness, anger, euphoria — and guilt — over having survived, hatred for the attacker.

For his part, he tried to reassure them that what they felt was entirely normal.

“When you have an emotion, in order for it to be released, you need to see a value in that,” Muscolo said.

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“So the first thing I am telling these people is accept what you are feeling .… It means you are human.”

Harvey is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Erik Kirschbaum contributed to this report.

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