A top politician of the Alpes-Maritime department, Eric Ciotti, said that police killed the driver “apparently after an exchange of gunfire”.
French newspaper Le Figaro quoted police sources saying that officers found weapons, guns and grenades inside the lorry cab, indicating it was a premeditated terrorist attack. Police are now actively seeking out any accomplices involved in planning the atrocity and specialist anti-terror detectives from Paris have taken over the investigation from local officers.
Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for the attack but supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group have been celebrating it on social media.
And the Paris prosecutor’s office tonight confirmed it has opened an investigation into charges of “murder and attempted murder in an organised group linked to a terrorist enterprise”.
It is believed to be the 10th terrorist attack carried out in France since January last year.
Witnesses said the truck picked up speed and “rammed” the crowd where it was thickest at more than 40mph whilst the driver fired a gun out of the window. Images then emerged of the cab riddled with bullets. One eyewitness said he saw the driver emerge with a gun after the truck came to a halt and begin shooting at the fleeing crowd.
Police have identified the driver, who was killed during the incident, and it is believed to have been a man who was known to security services. Separate reports emerged tonight that police fear four different trucks are involved, raising fears of a massive organised terror attack.
In a statement to BFM TV he added that “the driver fired on the crowd, according to the police who killed him”.
Mr Estrosi said the truck was drivien by someone who appeared to have “completely premeditated behavior” and confirmed that “the truck was loaded with arms, loaded with grenades”.
Crowds had packed out the city’s main promenade to watch a fireworks display marking Bastille Day, a major public holiday in France, and were beginning to head home when the lorry hit.
One witness reported horrific scenes with “dead bodies everywhere” and distressing video footage emerged of people fleeing the Promenade des Anglais, in the southern French city, in terror. Another said it ran down terrified pedestrians “like ninepins”.
And pictures posted on social media, far too graphic to publish, showed bodies strewn across the road in a scene of total devastation. The world-famous promenade, next to Nice’s stunning sandy beach, is one of France’s top tourist spots.
There are unconfirmed reports the incident was a deliberate ‘attack’
Police are investigating what is believed to be a possible terror attack
A lorry has ploughed into a crowd of people in Nice
A group of students who were on the Promenade des Anglais at the time of the incident.
One of them, Anthony, said: “The fireworks ended, and we went back.
“At that time we saw the white truck. A 6 tonne truck. It was speeding at 60 km/h, 70km/h.
“I saw behind the wheel, the driver was deciding which way it was heading. The truck rolled on to the pavement.
“It happened two meters from us. I saw people lying on the ground, I saw a small child hit the earth.”
Pictures have emerged of bodies strewn across the road
Eyewitnesses reported scores are dead
ISIS supporters are celebrating the attack
He said: ”I saw bodies flying like bowling pins in its path. I heard noises, screams, that I will never forget. I was paralysed. I did not move.
“Around me, there was panic. people were running, screaming, crying. Then I realized. And I ran with them.”
One eyewitness, Wassim Bouhlel, said he saw the driver emerge from the truck after it came to a halt and start shooting at the crowds.
He said: “There was carnage on the road. Bodies everywhere.”
But Sylvie Toffin, a press officer with the local prefecture, said the truck “hit several people on a long trip” however added that “to my knowledge” there was no gunfire.
She also confirmed that the incident was “an attack” but said she did not have casualty figures.
The truck was riddled with bullets during the incident
The driver of the vehicle is said to have been killed
France has been targeted by a number of terror plots
“My son was there right next to it. It hit where the crowd was thickest and was travelling very quickly – about 50km per hour (31mph).”
Another witness said: “He drove over everyone, everyone is bleeding. There are loads of people injured without doubt.”
The driver is believed to have been killed in the incident, possibly after being hit by bullets fired by police.
Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet confirmed the driver had been “neutralised” and added: “The investigation will determine whether he acted alone.”
Police apparently fired at the lorry as it mounted the curb
Officials have confirmed it as a terror attack
More than 100 have been injured
Police forensics experts found guns and grenades inside the truck
He drove over everyone, everyone is bleeding
“Police are flooding the streets, including anti-terrorism officers. Nobody knows what to do, except to hide away. Gunmen are meant to be targeting hotels.”
British tourist Lucy Nesbitt-Comiskey described the moment police shot at the truck and people fled into the restaurant she was dining at with her friend in panic.
The pair had been due to go to the fireworks display themselves but decided not to at the last minute because she needed to go to the toilet.
She said: “It sounded like an attack in Beirut. I said to my friend this doesn’t sound like fireworks. All of a sudden people were screaming in the streets and they were running to the restaurants.
“There was a lady she collapsed on the floor she fainted and we were in shock. We were going to go down to the fireworks but we didn’t go because I needed to go to the ladies and that’s what stopped us. It was shocking, it was devastating.”
Dozens of people are seriously wounded in hospital
There are unconfirmed reports of gunmen on the loose
Armed police have now flooded the streets of the city
The crowd was attending a fireworks display in Nice, with this photo taken moments before the drama
French President Francois Holland has immediately flown back to the capital Paris from an official trip in Avignon and will chair a crisis meeting of ministers at the Elysee Palace, his spokesman confirmed.
His interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, has already left Paris and is headed down to the south coast to visit the scene of the atrocity.
A spokesman for Number 10 said that Theresa May is being kept updated on the attack and added: “Our thoughts are with all those affected by this terrible incident on what was a national day of celebration.”
A spokesman for US President Barack Obama said he had been “apprised” of the situation in Nice and “will be updated as appropriate”.
Mr Obama released a statement saying: “I condemn in the strongest terms what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack in Nice.
“We stand in solidarity and partnership with France, our oldest ally, as they respond to and recover from this attack.”
Donald Trump tweeted that he has cancelled a press conference at which he was to announce his presidential running mate tomorrow “in light of the horrible attack in Nice”.
A hashtag was also started up on Twitter – #portesouvertesnice – for shellshocked witnesses and victims of the attack looking for somewhere to spend the night.
There will be fears tonight that France has been targeted by yet another horrific terrorist attack, coming after last November’s slaughter in Paris by Islamic State (ISIS) gunmen.
France is still in a State of Emergency following those attacks, when almost 150 people were murdered by Islamic State and Al-Qaeda operatives.
ISIS is well known for using vehicles in terrorist attacks, often packing them with explosives for maximum effect.
Bastille Day, which celebrates the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris during the French Revolution of 1789, is the country’s biggest public holiday.