Panic broke out in Cannes on Monday night after social media spread false warnings of a terror attack, causing thousands of people to join a stampede to safety in which 44 were injured.
Café terraces, bars and restaurants emptied in minutes as holidaymakers rushed to their hotels and locals to their homes, while police reinforcements and emergency workers were deployed in the city centre and on the beachfront.
Social media relayed dozens of false claims that shots had been heard. The fire brigade said 44 people had minor injuries after falling or being pushed to the ground during the stampede. About half of them were taken to hospital.
David Lisnard, the mayor, said the rumours proved to be untrue after police checked the city. He tweeted: “According to the information gathered and the security forces, there were no gunshots and no fanatic holed up in Cannes, but a moment of collective madness after an individual shouted ‘gunfire’.”
A woman named as Hava, who was at a restaurant when the false alarm was given, told Le Parisien newspaper: “We were sitting at a terrace when a crowd of 200 to 300 people arrived. They shouted: ‘There’s an attack, gunshots!’ People were walking on top of each other.”
Many people posted alerts and pictures of panicked crowds on social media before they knew there was no attack.
The rumours revived memories of the horrific Bastille Day attack in Nice, only 20 miles from Cannes, in which 86 people were killed and 458 injured in 2016. A Tunisian man drove a 19-tonne lorry into crowds of families who had been watching a fireworks display on the seafront Promenade des Anglais. The attack was claimed by the so-called Islamic State.