Berlin carnage witnesses recount horror, lucky escapes

Berlin (AFP) - A sudden bang -- and then everything went dark.

Survivors of the carnage caused when a lorry ploughed into a Berlin Christmas market recount the fear and horror they felt when festive revelry turned to death and destruction in a matter of seconds.

Many also told of lucky escapes and chance decisions that meant they were not standing in the path of the truck that mowed down the crowd on Monday, killing at least 12 people.

- '20 centimetres away' -

Lana Sefovac, a Bosnian who lives in Berlin, was at the entrance of the market at the time of the attack.

"We were at a stall because we wanted to buy some food. We were lucky we were hungry because if we had been on the promenade we would have been victims," she told regional N1 television in Bosnia.

"I was standing in front of the stall, my father was in front of me, my mum was behind. I heard a very, very noisy sound and when I turned towards it, the first thing I saw was wood flying all around because he literally smashed the first wooden booth by driving very fast.

"He was driving directly toward us, directly into us, but then he made a turn because he did not want to drive into (our) booth but where people were. He wanted to run people over.

"He passed 20 centimetres from my mum. She fell. My dad fell too. I turned and started screaming because I couldn't see my mum. I thought she was injured as the speed was high and I was sure he pushed her.

"She stood up, dad too, and at that moment I turned and saw the truck hitting a lamppost, with people laying around it and to the side.

"Absolutely everyone was shocked, nobody knew what to do, we were all trying to find our loved ones and friends that only a minute earlier we were drinking mulled wine with and now they were lying down in blood.

"Then we were worried that something else could happen, someone could come out of the truck, there could be an explosion or something, so as soon as the first shock passed, we immediately ran away."

- 'Totally powerless' -

Belgian woman Carima Douch, who was working at the Zaventem airport in Brussels when the suicide bombings happened in March, told of yet another lucky escape.

She told Dutch daily De Telegraaf daily after witnessing the Berlin attack: "It's very difficult. You feel totally powerless. And I am speechless. Everything comes back again. It is unbelievable that it is happening all over again."

Her friend, Carima Akel-Freie, a personal assistant from Leuven, said: "We thought it would be fun to go to the Christmas market. We were going to stay there, but a group wanted to leave to go and get a drink."

"I'm really happy that we decided to go with them. It probably saved our lives. Five minutes later the attack happened."

- 'Utter devastation' -

Another lucky escapee was British tourist Rhys Meredith, from Cardiff, who was at the market with his girlfriend when the lorry crashed into the crowd.

"We were having a good walk around, soaking up the scene, soaking up the atmosphere," he told the BBC.

"We had bought food and had we carried on we would have walked down the path the truck would have been down and we more than likely wouldn't be having this conversation right now."

Meredith said the lorry caused "complete and utter devastation".

"There was clearly no attempt to try and slow down... We've seen stalls... obliterated into nothing."

- So beautiful, so charming -

Dutch photographer Roos Koman was visiting the market with her boyfriend Stefan, having made the trip specially to Berlin to see it.

Just half an hour before the truck hit, they were enjoying the Christmas market and had gone back to their hotel just 50 metres away.

"It was so beautiful, so charming. I cannot quite comprehend the chaos that came directly afterwards," she told the Dutch AD daily.

"We only went back to the hotel because the Gedaechtniskirche (nearby church) was closed. Otherwise Stefan and I would still have been there."

"The hotel immediately closed all the doors. No-one could get out. It was very frightening, as we didn't know if the violence was over," she added.

Although their return flight is not until Thursday, she said she was "not sure" she would stay.

"Most likely we'll just stay in our hotel room and not leave... I expect there will be a huge exodus of tourists from Berlin. Everyone is scared."

- Missed by three metres -

Another British visitor to the market, Mike Fox, from Birmingham, told the BBC how he helped rescue people trapped under collapsed market stalls.

"As we were leaving the large truck came through," he said. "It had just passed me, passed my girlfriend. I think it had missed me by three metres -- missed her by five."

Fox said he spoke to two people who were lying on the floor with broken limbs "but they were going to be OK".

He added: "I saw one guy being dragged away with blood on his face. I helped several other people lift the side of one of the stalls up so that they could pull two other people from underneath."