Life Goes on, Sort of, Under Missile Attacks With PM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
Jan. 21, 1991
DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ The soothing voice of Radio Bahrain flowed from the speaker as the car drove through empty streets.
''Authorities have announced that the current alert has ended,'' said the woman announcer in a clipped British accent. ''There is no cause for alarm.''
But after two separate missile attacks late Sunday and early today on this Persian Gulf oil town, it was hard to feel things were back to normal, especially when passing motorists were all wearing gas masks.
U.S. authorities confirmed that Iraqis launched a total of 10 Scud missiles at Saudi Arabia during a three-hour period. Five were targeted at Dhahran, four at the Saudi capital of Riyadh. Another Scud splashed harmlessly in the gulf. They all carried high explosives warheads.
All but the one that hit water were destroyed in the air by Patriot missiles, officials said.
Debris from one destroyed Scud dug a four-foot crater, knocked down a light pole and tore up some shrubs near the beach front.
No one was hurt in the attacks, the Joint Arab Command said today.
It was the most concentrated attack on Saudi soil in four days of fighting. A Scud was shot down near Dhahran on Friday.
Sunday's first alert at the Dhahran International Hotel came at 10 p.m. (2 p.m. EST) with warning klaxons and a momentary blackout.
Journalists and Saudi and U.S. information bureaus, who live and work in the hotel, streamed into a basement bomb shelter wearing their gas masks.
A few minutes later five sharp explosions, the sound of Patriot launches, rattled the windows.
Neal Ulevich of The Associated Press was outside the hotel adjusting communications equipment when the Patriots blasted off.
''I heard a muffled explosion, apparently the Patriot launch, and saw a fiery red rocket exhaust arcing over the International hotel toward the north,'' he said. ''About the time it nearly disappeared from sight there was a small explosion to the north.''
Ulevich saw a second launch followed by a similar explosion a minute later.
An all-clear was sounded about 40 minutes.
Rumors quickly spread that a missile hit the nearby Aramco complex, home of hundreds of Americans and other expatriates who work for the Saudi government- owned oil company that overlooks the airbase.
But instead of a fiery inferno, there were concerned security guards and a very scared Patricia Kearney, wife of an Aramco employee.
''We were just leaving when we saw four orange streaks going off into the sky,'' she said, her hands trembling.
Kearney, who has lived in Saudi Arabia for 15 years, was frightened and angry.
''This was a very peaceful place and now it's a nightmare,'' she said. ''How can that man (Saddam) hold the world hostage like this?''
The streets of Dhahran were empty with the exception of a few speeding cars, their drivers wearing gas masks. Some waved as they drove past.
A Saudi driver pulled up, rolled down the window and held up his hand to signify five missile launches. He then pantomimed an air-to-air interception.
''OK,'' he said, smiling and waving. ''OK.''
But about three hours later, it happened all over again.
This time reporters at the hotel saw a big U.S. transport plane on landing approach veer sharply away from the airport. Four blasts from Patriot launches came in quick succession followed by secondary explosions in the night sky.
One of the explosions came low over Al Khobar a nearby town just north of Dhahran. Officials found missile debris near the Al Khobar waterfront.
The manager of a gas station there huddled in the darkened doorway of his station with three excited and frightened employees.
''We saw three streaks in the sky in three different places,'' he said, waving an arm excitedly. ''One was there by Doha, one over by the airport and one over there. There were three explosions in the sky.''
''Yes, yes,'' nodded the the two employees.
At the Mamma Mia Restaurant in Damman, an adjacent seaport and commercial city, two lone customers joined the chef, two waiters and a dishwasher in a tiny bathroom. The four staffers seemed confident about their gas masks until it was pointed out that none had screwed in their filter cannisters.
Another all-clear was followed by a third alert that turned out to be a false alarm. But by then nerves were frayed all over the area.
''Is very tense,'' said another gas station attendant with a tight grin.