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Holed up in supermarket with Strasbourg shooter on the prowl

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - For three tense hours last night I was hunkered down in a Strasbourg supermarket as a gunman prowled the city centre after a deadly attack on a Christmas market.

A French soldier stands guard near a closed wooden barrack shop at the traditional Christkindelsmaerik (Christ Child market) in front of the Cathedral the day after a shooting in Strasbourg, France, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

It was dark, cold and nerve-wracking. But at least we had fruit, chips and chocolate and a few bottles of wine courtesy of the store to comfort us.

I had been heading towards Monoprix at Strasbourg’s Place Kleber in search of some snacks after a hard’s day at the European Parliament when a group of people ran past me screaming.

I did not think much of it as other shoppers around me did not react, and I thought it might just be youngsters having fun.

At the supermarket, the security guard mentioned a shooting but did not appear worried. I browsed among the racks of clothes, moisturisers and lingerie with other customers.

Ten minutes later, staff told us to move to the back, away from the glass doors after getting a call, presumably from the police.

I suddenly thought of the school shootings in the United States and how some of the gunmen methodically searched for victims as they went from one classroom to another. Hiding among the clothes did not seem like a great option.

Half an hour later, the staff told us to go down to the basement, where the food department was, because it was safer.

Safer meant switching off the lights and so about 40 of us, including the staff, were left in the dark, all working our mobiles to find out what was happening outside.

Some sat on the cold floor, others stood by the cash registries while one woman raged, wanting to go home.

To their credit, the Monoprix supervisor handed out bottles of water to break the tension. Bananas, mandarins and apples were next on the menu. They also opened packets of chips and chocolates.

That definitely took people’s minds off the situation outside and the possibility that the gunman might decide to do some supermarket shooting.

Mobile phones were overworked as all of us called home or loved ones or texted them, or just to tune into the news to find out the latest. I also filed some notes to Reuters colleagues.

Remembering my hostile training course, I noted to myself where the exits were.

Two hours later, after someone complained about the cold from the freezers, the staff shepherded us up to the top floor of the supermarket via some narrow steep steps where it was much warmer.

One opened up a couple of bottles of wine and we sat around in a circle for a sip. We were not allowed to go near the windows. The lights were not switched on so we waited in the dark.

The police called around 11.30 pm, saying we could go home. We left in groups of 10, following a route marked out by the police. Everyone was frisked at checkpoints before they were allowed to go further.

Going to a supermarket will never be the same for me.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Angus MacSwan