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Reporter In France Describes Scene Inside Soccer Stadium


French officials are now reporting that about 120 people were killed in attacks in Paris. Some media organizations are putting that number much higher. Most of the deaths occurred in a concert hall during a sold-out show. But there was also one, possibly two, explosions outside a soccer stadium where France and Germany were playing. We're now joined by Ben Barnier. He's a freelance reporter in Paris, and he was actually at tonight's soccer game. And Ben, we're getting all kinds of reports about what happened at the stadium itself. You were inside. Can you tell us what you saw or heard?

BEN BARNIER: Indeed. I was attending what was supposed to be an exciting game between France and the world champion in soccer, Germany. And early in the game, we heard two explosions, two very loud explosions. Now, if you've ever been to a large soccer game, it's not unusual to hear fireworks. But this time around, the two explosions were much louder than fireworks. And shortly after, we heard police sirens which then indicated that something unusual might have happened indeed. But we didn't get confirmation of that early in the game. We only got official confirmation that there had been explosions out by the Stade de France, France's largest stadium, towards the end of the game. So at that time...

CORNISH: What was the reaction at the time? I'm sure people had their phones. Maybe they started to get the news.

BARNIER: Well, exactly, and it was bizarre because you had, on the one hand, those two explosions and the game continuing, business as usual - an exciting game with goals and people watching, getting excited about the game, but checking, at the same time, their cellphones. So it was very bizarre.

CORNISH: I know the president of France was also in attendance. Was security tight?

BARNIER: It was tight. But you have to bear in mind that for such large games, there is always beefed-up security, police presence. You always have police on horses and stewards that are professionals. They know how to spot dangerous people. So it was not different from usual. The only difference was that when we tried to leave the stadium and find out what happened during the game, we were not allowed to do so.

CORNISH: So you weren't allowed to leave the stadium. What did people do? We saw images of a crowded field actually at one point.

BARNIER: Indeed, and I saw dozens of people stranded on the grounds and the place where people, you know, actually play, where they players played. Among those stranded, I saw many children, and some of them, when they were walking back towards the exit, I saw some of them crying, clearly very moved by the event and whether they were with their parents or sports coaches, those parents, coaches were trying to comfort them, telling them that they were all right. And there's something really natural that you do when something happens like this; you call your loved ones and tell them you're OK.

CORNISH: We know that the stadium wasn't the only place where people weren't allowed to leave at first. Were you able to leave, and once you got out, I mean, what was it like trying to get home, right? The city is essentially on lockdown.

BARNIER: Indeed. I mean, first and foremost right outside the stadium, I saw forensic investigators combing the floors for clues right next to the restaurant where one of the explosions happened. And then you could hear police sirens, you could hear police trucks more than usual. Then I didn't go downtown Paris to the areas where the attacks happened. I know those areas very well 'cause I used to live in one of those neighborhoods, and I can tell you that if you wanted to compare to a place in New York, you would be looking at Williamsburg in New York, which is a place where hipsters, yuppies - where you have the nice restaurants where you can go for drinks. So it's truly a happy neighborhood.

CORNISH: What are you hearing from friends and family right now? What are people around you doing?

BARNIER: Well, we're asleep because it's very late now at night. But before going to sleep or going back home or to bed, we just made sure everyone was OK, whether it's on the - within the social networks or over the phone, we just made sure everyone was fine.

CORNISH: That's Ben Barnier. He's a freelance reporter in Paris. Thank you for speaking with us.

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