Las Ramblas: The attack locals feared was coming

Bleary-eyed Barcelona residents left their apartments for work early Friday, as backpack-toting tourists began a day of sightseeing in the seaside city, a day after Spain was hit by its deadliest attack in years.

As the sun rose, locals in Las Ramblas peered out from behind their shutters, onto the promenade where a white van mowed down crowds of people Thursday afternoon, killing at least 13 and injuring more than 100.

In the outdoor cafés below, full glasses of beer and sangria from the evening before were still on tables, left behind as people scattered in panic. Hours after the police cordon in the area was lifted, waiters began to pick up the pieces, righting overturned chairs and clearing away debris.

Vendors were beginning to set up shop in the tourist hotspot known for its bustling market, just as they do every morning, laying out glossy fashion magazines, organizing souvenir Sagrada Familia key rings, and folding red and blue Barcelona football club jerseys.

Federico Colmenarejo, 32, was walking around Las Ramblas in a daze, his hair rumpled, a coffee mug in hand.

“How is it possible that I cross this street every day on my way to work? I can’t believe it. In Barcelona this never happens,” said Colmenarejo, who lives just a stone’s throw from Las Ramblas.

One of his friends was walking on the street with his young daughter when the van sped by yesterday, plowing into pedestrians. He sent Colmenarejo horrific footage of the scene, showing bodies strewn on the busy street.

“I was at home when it happened. My grandmother rang me on Skype — she normally calls once a month,” Colmenarejo said. “It was right at that moment that it happened. I started to hear strange sounds and saw people running away from my balcony.”

He says the call from his grandmother saved his life.

READ MORE: Barcelona attack: What we know so far

Early Friday, local residents and tourists congregated near the city’s Liceu subway station, at La Boqueria Market, where the driver’s rampage ended.

A line of people formed to lay flowers and light candles at a makeshift memorial on the large mosaic by Spanish artist Joan Miro. One family left roses at the scene before walking away, tears in their eyes.

Miren Stillitani, 30, looked on in stunned silence.

“I feel empty,” Stillitani, who lives in a side-street just off of Plaça Boqueria, told CNN. “I feel insulted. It’s like the feeling of someone spitting on you.”

Stillitani said she was at work when the attack happened, just a minute’s walk from her apartment.

“I was in a meeting and everyone started looking at their phones … The first thing I did was to call my boyfriend because he was home. Luckily he was safe,” she said.

The couple spends most evenings in the lively neighborhood, often going to dinner or grabbing drinks on the popular promenade after work.

“In this neighborhood I felt quite safe,” Stillitani said. “I thought it wouldn’t be a target because there are also tourist places like Sagrada Familia. You hear about these things but you don’t think they’re going to happen to you.”

“But my everyday life is not going to change because of this … we must go on.”

READ MORE: Manhunt after 14 die in day of terror

Angel Toscano, 44, works at a news and souvenir stand in the Ramblas market. Standing behind stacks of FC Barcelona scarves, he’s there every day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and clocked out as usual on Thursday, just hours before the attack.

“I knew this was going to happen for a long time,” Toscano said as he set up a rack of bracelets and laid out the morning’s newspapers, their front pages splashed with news of the attack.

“There are thousands of people here every day. It’s a very easy target. If you want to kill people with a car, this is the place to do it.”

That refrain is echoed by others here, who say Las Ramblas was not secure enough to fend off an attack like this. They cite a lack of barriers at the street’s entrance, and the sheer number of tourists who flock to the market.

“I’ve always said it’s a really easy place to attack,” local resident Cristiano Grazioli, 34, said. “There are no protections around Plaça de Catalunya.”

Grazioli, who lives just around the corner from Las Ramblas, came, skateboard in hand, to see for himself what had happened so close to home.

“This is my quarter. I know a lot of people here. I have a lot of friends that live around here,” he said. “I am running through a lot of emotions.”

Grazioli skates up Las Ramblas every morning to get to work in nearby Gracia, where he is a chef in a tapas bar. The neighborhood is host to one of Barcelona’s biggest summer street festivals — it was cancelled last night — one of a number of events called off in the wake of the attack.

Barcelona, Europe’s top cruise port, played host to some 9 million overnight guests in 2016, along with millions more who visited the city on daytrips.

READ MORE: Witness saw people ‘flying int the air’

Rania and her husband Ali came to Barcelona from Israel for a holiday. They originally planned to stay in the city for six days, but are now considering cutting their trip short.

The couple was touring the city’s port at the time of yesterday’s attack. On Friday morning, after waking up to news of a second attack overnight in Cambrils, some 70 miles from Barcelona, they came to pay their respects on Las Ramblas.

“Yesterday I told my husband I was worried that wearing a hijab, people here would think I agree with what happened. But this doesn’t represent me,” Rania, who declined to give her last name, said. “The feeling of insecurity is terrible for all people.”

READ MORE: Barcelona attacks: Latest updates

Mirta Kisak Koch, 35, moved to Barcelona from Croatia a few years ago. She said she, her children and their dog cross the lively thoroughfare at least six times a day on their way to the park or to go grocery shopping.

She said she had long expected the city to be targeted — but hadn’t expected terrorists to strike quite so close to home.

“This is Barcelona, it was bound to happen,” she said. “But it’s a different thing when it happens on your doorstep.”

“I don’t think this will stop but we have to learn how to live with it.”