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LEWISTON: Police in the US state of Maine waged a sprawling manhunt Thursday for a gunman who killed at least 16 people at a bowling alley and a bar in the deadliest mass shooting this year in America.

Dozens more people were reported wounded in the rampage in the small town of Lewiston and, in the absence of a formal death toll, local officials estimated the number of fatalities at between 16 and 22.

Lewiston was in lockdown Thursday morning, with schools closed and residents ordered to stay indoors.

Police said a man named Robert Card -- seen in surveillance footage pointing a semi-automatic rifle with an extended clip as he walked into the bowling alley in Lewiston -- should be considered armed and dangerous.

News outlets had broadcast footage of people fleeing in terror from the venue after the shooting started on Wednesday evening.

One survivor whose name was not given told CNN he was 15 feet (5 meters) from the gunman when he opened fire. He thought at first it was a balloon popping.

“And as soon as I turned and saw it was not a balloon and he was holding a weapon, I just booked it down the lane and I slid basically into where the pins are and climbed up into the machine and was on top of the machines for about 10 minutes until the cops got there,“ he told CNN.

Card is a certified firearms instructor and a member of the US Army Reserve, according to multiple law enforcement sources.

Lewiston city councilor Robert McCarthy told CNN Wednesday night as many as 22 people may have died, but others put the toll at 16.

Maine public safety official Mike Sauschuck said he was not prepared to give a death toll, calling it “a very fluid situation.”

He told reporters that police were flooding the streets in search of the gunman.

“We have literally hundreds of police officers working around the state of Maine to investigate this case, to locate Mr. Card,“ he said.

President Joe Biden made calls -- stepping away from a state dinner honoring Australia’s prime minister -- to Maine’s governor, its two senators and a local congressman to offer federal support, the White House said.

- Multiple locations -

Police and rescuers reportedly arrived at the Sparetime Recreation bowling alley at about 7:15 pm (00:15 Thursday GMT) in response to an active shooter, and then received reports of another shooting at the Schemengees Bar & Grille.

Police issued photographs of 40-year-old Card at the bowling alley, where he appears calm and composed as he moves through the doorway with his rifle raised.

Another survivor, Riley Dumont, said she and her family fled to a corner of the bowling venue and hid behind tables and a bench.

“I was laying on top of my daughter. My mother was laying on top of me,“ Dumont told ABC News.

“It felt like it lasted a lifetime,“ she added. “I just remember people sobbing and crying.”

Sauschuck said officers had located a “vehicle of interest” they had been looking for -- a white sport utility vehicle (SUV) -- in Lisbon, a town around eight miles (12 kilometers) from Lewiston, where residents had also been warned to stay off the streets.

Card was not in the vehicle, reports said.

- ‘My hometown’ -

The shooting is one of the deadliest since 2017, when a gunman opened fire on a crowded music festival in Las Vegas, killing about 60 people.

Gun violence is alarmingly common in the United States, a country where there are more guns than people and where attempts to clamp down on their spread are always met with stiff resistance.

The United States has recorded at least 565 mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), a non-governmental organization that defines a mass shooting as four or more people wounded or killed.

Wednesday’s attack was the deadliest mass shooting in 2023 so far, according to the GVA’s data.

Efforts to tighten gun controls have for years run up against opposition from Republicans, staunch defenders of the constitutional right to bear arms.

The political paralysis endures despite widespread outrage over recurring shootings.

Lewiston is the second most populous city in Maine located some 30 miles north of the largest city, Portland. -AFP