Blasts rattle hotel guests in Damman WAR IN THE GULF

January 21, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

DAMMAN, SAUDI ARABIA -- The blast of missiles colliding in the air near here was strong enough to shake buildings, rattle nerves and bring tears to the eyes of fearful men and women.

An Indian woman hurtled down the stairs in this coastal area's largest hotel, crying loudly and muscling her way past others headed to the basement bomb shelter.

Children wiped the sleep from their eyes and held tightly to their panicked parents.

Some adults hurriedly tucked shirttails into their pants or adjusted their belts.

Still others seemed to walk casually toward the shelter. They seemed to have adjusted faster than most to life in a war zone.

This was the scene several miles north of Dhahran, part of a general area where successive waves of Iraqi Scud missiles threatened lives and property for the second time in three days.

"This Hussein is really starting to tick me off," groused one man, who was considering heading outside to see if he could find the smell of explosives in the air.

In the Damman Oberoi Hotel here, a high-rise building that overlooks the Persian Gulf and faces northward toward Iraq, Saudis, Indians, Japanese, Austrians, Americans and Britons scrambled for seats in a basement cafeteria as a Bahrain television station relayed live reports from the Cable News Network.

The hotel management brought down a portable switchboard, from which they could take calls. "Mr. Kim? Mr. Kim? Telephone call," cried a hotel employee above the CNN broadcast and crowd noise.

Someone who seemed disinclined to answer the phone was Judy Kean, a reporter for USA Today. Despite the thundering explosions, the wailing air raid sirens and the ringing hotel fire alarm, "My editor says to me, 'Do you think you can file before you go downstairs?' " she said. "Right."

A slender Japanese woman dressed in black western clothes gripped a shiny construction hard hat in one hand, a gas mask in the other.

A male companion complained that their transplanted Japanese community had only recently arrived at the hotel, having evacuated business facilities in northern Saudi Arabia.

Saudi men in their headdresses and long white robes listened to portable radios or made calls on their cellular phones.

"My Saudi friend says there were seven missiles," one man said, only to be corrected by another who insisted he heard only four explosions.

"I was on the phone with my girlfriend when it all started," one man was overheard to say.

"She was freaking out. She was crying. I told her I had to hang up and head to the shelter. She has no idea what's happening. Neither do I."

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