An ordinary Friday night in Paris transformed into a bloodbath. The word Parisians used over and over as they tried to make sense of the horror was 'carnage'.

At the packed Bataclan concert hall in eastern Paris, the attackers opened fire on a crowd waiting to hear American rock band Eagles of Death Metal perform. One witness told France Info radio he heard them yell 'Allahu Akbar', God is great in Arabic, as they started their killing spree and took hostages.

The city's police chief, Michel Cadot, said the assailants also wore explosive belts, which they detonated.

About 1.5 kilometres from there, attackers sprayed gunfire at the Belle Equipe bar, busy as ever on a Friday night with patrons unwinding from their week.

One witness, also speaking to French radio, said the dead and wounded dropped 'like flies' and that 'there was blood everywhere. You feel very alone in moments like that'.

The preliminary death toll there appeared to be 18 dead, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said. White sheets were laid over bodies.

To the north, loud explosions reverberated around the national stadium, packed with some 80,000 fans watching France beat Germany in a soccer exhibition match. One of the loud detonations in the chill air so startled French player Patrice Evra that he paused in mid-run, seemingly lost, and kicked away the ball.

A police union official, Gregory Goupil, said the two explosions were suicide attacks and a bombing that killed at least three people, near two of the entrances to the stadium and a McDonalds. The stadium was the first site targeted.

From there, the wave of killings quickly spread. There were 14 dead on one street, five on another, Molins said. The spread of the killings added to the confusion and made a coherent picture slow to form.

But the shock was instantaneous, as was the understanding that this was terror and killing on a scale unseen in Paris since World War II.

"The terrorists, the assassins, sprayed the outsides of several cafes with machine guns and went inside," Cadot, the police chief, said. "So there were victims in terrible and atrocious states in numerous places."

French President Francois Hollande was quickly evacuated from the stadium and soon after declared a state of emergency.

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