Reporters Find Kuwait Without Water, Electricity WAR IN THE GULF

March 10, 1991|By Richard P. Sia | Richard P. Sia,Richard Sia, The Sun's Pentagon correspondent, has been in Saudi Arabia since January.

The first wave of journalists to enter war-torn Kuwait has had to beg, borrow or steal to survive conditions here while reporting the news. In some cases, it has meant taking gas from Iraqi trucks that survived the U.S. attack in Jahra or giving some of that gasoline to CNN for a few minutes on its satellite telephone.

When I arrived here, Kuwait was largely without electricity, water, food and telephone service. In the days before their hasty retreat, the Iraqis had cut the power, water and communications. Hotels were destroyed or badly damaged by what residents say were deliberate Iraqi rocket attacks.

Several other reporters and I made a memorable entrance into the city: Barreling down a three-lane obstacle course strewn with burned-out Iraqi tanks and trucks, our four-wheel drive vehicle ran over some shrapnel and blew a tire. As we struggled for more than an hour to change the flat, a Saudi national guardsman and two Kuwaiti resistance fighters -- one of them shot in the foot -- came by with rifles drawn, saying they would protect us from Iraqi soldiers who were still leaving the city.

We could hear gunfire and see red tracer rounds dotting the sky; it was impossible to separate the sounds of fighting from the celebration of exuberant -- and heavily armed -- Kuwaiti residents.

With resistance fighters as our escorts, we caught up with other reporters at the Equestrian Club and racetrack near the airport, a site suggested by U.S. military officials as a safe place to spend the night.

But Marines we encountered there said a major tank battle was just ending in the area and that no one had been able to sweep the club premises for mines or booby traps.

"Sleep outside, in the stables or stay in the lobby area and don't pick anything up," the commando said.

I learned later that a comprehensive sweep of the area turned up Iraqi anti-tank mines all over the club grounds.

The next day, we went begging for rooms at the Kuwait International Hotel, appealing to a hotel official in the parking garage, since the main entrance had been bombed. The only phone service was provided by reporters themselves, via portable satellite hookups. The one I was using broke down on the second night.

Then last Sunday, AT&T set up free long-distance phones nearly 20 miles from downtown Kuwait City, but getting there meant crossing about a dozen checkpoints run by the Kuwaiti army. Soldiers began enforcing a curfew of 10 p.m. on Monday, making nightly trips to the telephones dangerous -- at least one carload of reporters had a group of nervous soldiers place their automatic rifles against the car windows.

"We're Americans. Journalists," shouted the driver, as if that would keep anyone from shooting.

"Ahh, Americans," replied one of the Kuwaiti soldiers. "Thank you, Americans. Welcome to Kuwait."

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