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Barcelona stunned as 13 killed in van attack on Las Ramblas

Laura Smith-Spark, CNN | 8/17/2017, 3:11 p.m.
At least 13 people were killed and more than 50 injured after a van rammed through crowds of people in ...
A van has hit a crowd at Placa Catalonia, in the Ramblas area of Barcelona Twitter photo

(CNN) -- At least 13 people were killed and more than 50 injured after a van rammed through crowds of people in the heart of Barcelona Thursday in what police described as a terror attack.

Eyewitnesses reported scenes of panic and chaos as the van plowed through crowds in the renowned Las Ramblas avenue, which was teeming at the time with locals and tourists.

One person has been arrested, Catalan police said. Police were treating the incident as an act of terrorism and sealed off the area.

"We can confirm 13 dead and more than 50 injured," Joaquim Forn, the Catalan interior minister, told a news conference.

City officials ordered all public events to be canceled, while metro and train stations in the area were closed.

Reports of the attack first emerged on social media at about 5 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET). About two hours later, police confirmed that Spain had suffered a deadly attack.

It was the latest in a series of attacks in Europe in which vehicles have been used to mow down pedestrians in public spaces. More than 100 people have died in similar attacks in Berlin, London and Nice.

Catalan police said they were continuing to hunt for the perpetrators and that the force had activated its terror response protocols. Unconfirmed reports suggested the suspects may have been attempting to reach a getaway vehicle.

Local Spanish media earlier reported that two armed men had entered a restaurant. But Catalan police dismissed rumors that the attacker had been holed up near Las Ramblas and said there "was never a hostage situation."

As the incident unfolded, police told everyone in the vicinity of Pla├ža de Catalunya and Las Ramblas to remain indoors until told it was safe to go outside. Footage posted to social media by witnesses showed chaotic scenes with people lying in the street, apparently dead or injured.

Witness reports gunshots

One witness told local media the situation was "very tense" and that all surrounding shops were being evacuated. The witness said at least eight ambulances were at the scene. Emergency services said the area had been cordoned off and all public transportation stopped.

Another witness who was hiding in a shop nearby heard gunshots, according to state-run broadcaster TVE24. A third said he saw a van driving "around 80 kilometers" per hour, or 50 mph. He said "there is no doubt it was intentional," according to TVE24.

Tourist Susan McClean told CNN that she saw a "tidal wave" of people running away from Las Ramblas in the aftermath of the incident.

She ducked into a nearby shop and the shutters were pulled down while police sped toward the scene.

"There was clearly a lot of distress," she told CNN.

McClean said she returned to her hotel just a street away after leaving the shop.

Witness: 'Lot of distress'

The Catalan regional government said it was holding an emergency meeting to discuss the incident.

The Catalan emergency services urged people via Twitter to avoid going out or undertaking any other type of movement that is not "strictly necessary" to facilitate police operations.