By DAWN BOOTH, Connect Weekly
After a tense and chaotic couple of days, three Fort McMurray men have made it home safe and sound after being in Paris on Friday, November 13, during the terror attacks that killed over 120 people. Cliff Dimm, Narry Ramnath and Rod Black (who is from Fort McMurray and now resides in Calgary) arrived to Paris late afternoon on Friday.
The three Albertans were in Europe for leisure to watch rock bands: Foo Fighters in Vienna and U2 in Paris. At the time of the Paris terror attacks, they were out for dinner at Café La Favorite – a restaurant close to their rented apartment in the 4th arrondissement of Paris (also known as, addordissement de l’Hôtel-de-Ville), which is situated on the Right Bank of the River Seine.
“Myself and two close friends had come to Europe for a couple of concerts, seeing Foo Fighters in Vienna on Wednesday (November 11), then traveled to Paris on Friday to see U2 on Sunday (November 15),” Cliff Dimm shared with the Connect through Facebook messenger on Saturday, November 14, close to 24 hours after the attacks first took place.
“One of the lads at the next table said: “It’s a terrorist attack.” He had received a message on his phone saying there had been shots fired at a restaurant and there were fatalities. The stream of emergency vehicles was steady.”
“We were having a great dinner, talking hockey with a couple of Americans at the next table. At some point, we started hearing sirens, and seeing police and emergency vehicles passing,” Dimm shared. “One of the lads at the next table said: “It’s a terrorist attack.” He had received a message on his phone saying there had been shots fired at a restaurant and there were fatalities”
“The stream of emergency vehicles was steady. We got up from the table to go outside and look. Our waiter then told us there were multiple attacks across the city, and that a dozen people had been killed. At that point, everyone was on their phones trying to get information, which was changing quickly. It became apparent this was a major event. We all immediately phoned family in Canada to let them know what was happening and that we were OK. We didn’t want anyone hearing something on the radio and being worried.”
As the attacks took a turn to the worst, Dimm explained how the atmosphere within the restaurant quickly changed; and the series of events left him, his friends, and restaurant guests in question of what to do next.
“Of course, everyone’s conversation was also what do we do? Go back to apartment? Stay and finish dinner? I think the general mood in the restaurant was anger, not fear. And that was ours as well.” Dimm shared, “The intent of these actions is to create fear, and change how people live. We made the decision to stay, but certainly watching the street more closely.”
Shortly after, the Paris Police Prefecture arrived to the restaurant and were dressed, as Dimm described as: “heavily armed, and were directing people to stay indoors.”
The three friends went back to their rented apartment for safety. After finding an English-speaking news coverage program on TV, they soon learned how close they were to the massacre at the Bataclan concert hall, which is located at 50 boulevard Voltaire in the 11th arrondissement of Paris.
“We also realized that our flat, and the restaurant, were very close. Hence, why so much of the response had passed us.”
“We went back to the apartment and tried to find English coverage. Obviously, as we did, the scale of the attacks was becoming known, and was mind-numbing,” Cliff Dimm explained. “We also realized that our flat, and the restaurant, were very close (only 1,500 metres from the Bataclan Theatre, and 2.3 kilometres from Le Petit Cambodge). Hence, why so much of the response had passed us.”
Dimm shared how the next 24 hours following the attacks were spent trying to gather information with his friends, which also included getting in touch with the Canadian Embassy in France.
“News and online services were providing emergency numbers; a web-page was set up where Parisians were opening their homes to people needing somewhere to go,” he explained. “Facebook created an app allowing people to indicate they were safe. We registered with the Canadian Embassy, who said to “be cautious”; and we checked if our flight Monday was still going out.”
The information was overwhelming for Dimm and his friends, as they were unsure of what truth was, and what procedures were set in place.
“We were hearing so many things and not being sure what was true or not,” he shared. ”Country in state of emergency, borders closed, travel halted, curfews. Other than curfews, all true.”
At this time (around noon GMT), Dimm explained how he, along with Black and Ramnath, decided to leave their rented apartment to get a coffee and they saw people out in the streets and shops reopening. They didn’t have their first full meal, until almost 24 hours since their last at the restaurant.
“The faces of the patrons certainly had fear. But we believe it was precautionary due to police action that was being taken at a hotel near the Eiffel Tower, about four kilometres away.”
“We grabbed a coffee and some bread. All the major tourist attractions in the city were closed, so our plan for the day changed,” he shared. “In the evening, after having not eaten for close to 24 hours, we decided to head out. We were searched by security going into the restaurant.”
“After dinner, we stopped at an Irish pub for a beer, and were also checked. About 30 minutes in, the music stopped and the lights came on, and security came in and told everyone to leave. The faces of the patrons certainly had fear. But we believe it was precautionary due to police action that was being taken at a hotel near the Eiffel Tower, about four kilometres away. The staff said it was very quiet for a Saturday. But there were large amounts of people going about their activities.”
The three would soon learn about the concert cancellation for U2’s scheduled show on Sunday at the AccorHotels Arena. (It has been postponed until further notice.)
According to BBC News, Foo Fighters were are also planned to perform in Paris on Monday, November 16 and have cancelled gigs, along with Motorhead and Coldplay, after U2 made the first announcement of cancelling their shows.
BBC News also reported “U2, who had been due to perform in Paris on Saturday (November 14), instead spent the evening laying flowers near the Bataclan theatre”.
When conversing with the Connect again on November 15, Dimm shared how he and his friends were in the crowd of panic, while visiting Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral. According to The Associated Press, “crowds of panicked mourners fled” after mistaking firecrackers for gunfire on Sunday evening.
The false alarm took place while people gathered at the cathedral for a national service for the victims of the terror attack. When the sounds went off, Dimm and his friends were soon running with the crowd, as they were told gunshots had been fired. He shared they “didn’t find out until much later that it was fireworks.”
He continued, “(We) ended up in a crowd of panic today after the mass at Notre Dame. Someone set off fireworks and thousands were in panic. We couldn’t get (back to the rented apartment) as our street was blocked by the army.”
By Sunday night, Dimm explained how his (and his friends’) emotions had went from anger to fear over the course of the past two days, after having experienced the reality among others in panic at Notre Dame.
“Tonight (Sunday, November 15) was a false alarm, but an indication as to how scared people are… Tonight, we were,” he shared.
“Tonight (Sunday, November 15) was a false alarm, but an indication as to how scared people are… Tonight, we were,” he shared. “It’s hard to describe the feeling. One of my colleagues was looking for where we’d go if something happens on the street.”
On Monday, November 16, the three men arrived safely back on Canadian soil at the Toronto Pearson Airport around mid-day and were back in Alberta by the evening.
On speaking with the Connect after he made his way to Fort McMurray from a connecting flight in Calgary, Dimm expressed that though he’s a frequent traveler, he’s “never wanted to get home so badly.”
And after 28 hours of travelling, he and Ramnath made their way across the flight pad into the Fort McMurray International Airport, just a little after midnight… “it’s been a long four days,” he shared.
Dimm is now home in Fort McMurray with his wife, and two daughters and Ramnath with his brother and sister; and Black is back in Calgary.
– Connect Weekly –