(photo credit: AP)
Ten minutes made the difference between life and death for Batya Masor, 68, who was not in her second-floor bedroom in a Nahariya retirement home Thursday when a Katyusha rocket crashed through it.
"At 7:30 a.m. I left my room and went downstairs to breakfast," Masor said.
In the dining room, she sat down at a table and began to chat with her friends.
"Suddenly there was a loud explosion and the room filled with smoke," she said. "If I had stayed upstairs 10 minutes longer, I would be dead."
"It's a miracle that people didn't die," said Hava Carmeli, the home's owner.
Had the rocket, which ripped through the ceiling of the two-story structure on Jabotinsky Street, struck any earlier, it would have caught the residents asleep in their beds.
But most of them were already in the dining room when it fell. "That is how they were saved," Carmeli said.
The blast shattered windows, overturned furniture, pockmarked the walls, and punched holes in the ceilings of bedrooms on the second floor and of the kitchen on the first floor.
In the kitchen, rubble covered a table still filled with trays of food that had been set up for breakfast.
According to the spokesman for the Nahariya Government Hospital, 18 people were treated for light injures and shock. Carmeli said two residents of the home were injured by falls during the attack, and would require surgery.
The Katyusha was the first rocket to hit Nahariya since the end of the Second Lebanon War in August 2006, when most of the city's population fled to other parts of the country.
The home's residents, many of whom had no place to go, were among those who stayed in the city during the war.
Carmeli said the home, which she has run for 25 years and has 27 residents, remained intact during the summer of 2006.
During the Second Lebanon War, the warning siren would sound and it was possible to bring people to safety, she said.
"The problem is that there was no siren this morning," she said, as she smoked a cigarette outside the building, whose residents had been evacuated to nearby retirement homes after the attack.
In the home down the street where Masor and a number of the others were taken, the seniors sat in the hallway and talked about the explosion.
One confused man asked everyone who passed if his new room was ready.
Tovah Steinberg, 88, who had come to the home less than two months ago, was in her bedroom on the first floor when the rocket hit the building.
"There was an awful noise and smoke. I thought we are being bombed," she said. "I didn't stop to worry about who, Iran, Hizbullah, it didn't matter."
Because Steinberg lived in a side room, the damage to her property was minimal.
But Masor, who is an artist and whose room was filled with drawings and pottery as well as old family photographs, said she feared that everything was destroyed.
As she spoke, her son came to show her one drawing he had saved from the rubble. The glass frame was broken, but the picture was intact.
"I'm still in shock," said Masor, who was able to go up to her room after emergency personnel had declared that it was safe.
She found that water had leaked onto the rubble that covered the floor.
"I don't know what's left," she said.
Her eyes welled a bit with tears, but her voice was calm and measured.
"They gave me a tranquilizer," she said, as if to explain how she could sit calmly, without fearing that another rocket would fall.
In the Nachmani family's second-floor apartment across the street, the shutters were closed at the time of the blast. So the only person who heard the explosion through the mostly soundproof walls was Orel, 6, who went and woke his mother.
"I went to open the shutters to see what he was talking about. I saw shards of glass on the porch and I immediately understood what had happened," said his mother, Adrian.
Then her husband, Reuven, called from work and told them to get into their safe room.
Although she and Reuven believe that the attack was an isolated act of solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza, they aren't taking any chances.
To be honest, she said, she had feared an attack since the start of the Gaza operation almost two weeks ago.
Although she and her family had moved to Nahariya after the Second Lebanon War, as a former resident of Haifa, which was also hit with rockets, she is a veteran of such attacks.
During that war, she and her family went down to Eilat. She had hoped that she would not have to leave home again.
But now that a missile has fallen, she doesn't want to stay in the city.
"I'm packing right now," said Adrian, who plans to head to relatives in Haifa with Orel and her 13-year-old son, Moshe.
Adrian said she knows that a missile could hit Haifa as well, but she feels that the danger there is less and there is more time between when the sirens sound and the rockets hit.
She is leaving behind her good friend Michal Haimovitch, who along with her children, Adar, 2, and Guy, 6, had sought safety in Nahariya from the rocket attacks on their home city of Ashkelon.
"Now I don't know where to go," said Michal, as she sat on the sofa in the living room, feeding pizza to Adar and watching the news.
"Maybe I will go to Haifa, too," she said.
But not everyone in Nahariya was frightened away by the blast. Although the coastal city looked like a ghost town during the Second Lebanon War, on Thursday it was bustling.
People shopped and even sat in cafes. At one coffee shop, three teenage girls thought nothing of sitting near a glass window to share a drink and some gossip.
"I'm not thinking of leaving," said Ferial Akra, 15.
It's true, she said, that the thought of a rocket was scary.
"But everything is in God's hands," she said.
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