Driving amid the rockets

"The fire was raging and a huge plume of black smoke ballooned into the sky."

Katyusha 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Katyusha 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Despite the bellicose statements coming from both sides, I was still reluctant to consider this conflict a "war" as I headed north. A "cross-border exchange" or "serious escalation" were more accurate descriptions in my opinion. But then I found myself a couple of streets away from an incoming Katyusha. The rocket hit the top story of a Nahariya apartment building on the corner of Herzl and Hameyasdim streets, crashing through the structure, setting the building on fire along with an electricity pylon close by. The fruit stands on the street below remained strangely intact - a perverse reminder of a normal routine that had just come to an abrupt end. The fire was raging and a huge plume of black smoke ballooned into the sky. The glass fronts of shops along the road had been blown away. The whole area was covered in glass and debris. A distraught neighbor, her hands on her head, muttered, "God, God" as the first fire engines to reach the scene hurtled past. Nahariya, July 2006. This is war. Make no mistake about it. Touring the areas hit in the Hizbullah rocket barrage, what was most striking was witnessing the destructive capacity of a single Katyusha. I always imagined a Katyusha as a crude, inaccurate projectile that would cause a small crater upon impact and little else. But the scenes where the Katyushas fell remind me of suicide bomb attacks I have covered in Jerusalem, with the destruction spread over a large area. In a similar fashion to the bombs used in suicide attacks, the Katyusha warheads are packed with small shards of metal that disperse with the force of the explosion. These shards can kill, which explains why it is safer for residents to remain indoors even if they are not inside bomb shelters. The irony is that people emerge from their homes at exactly the period of greatest danger - when the rockets are falling. Despite the warnings of the emergency services, neighbors have come out to see which homes were hit and if they can help people in need. The noise of a rocket falling is very loud, and when five or six are landing in close proximity it is a frightening experience. It's a game of Russian roulette, reminding me of that line from the Yehuda Poliker song, "Who is next in line?" Driving during a rocket barrage was also a new experience. Some drivers tended to slow down and looked to the sky to try and spot the "incoming." Others (emergency services, media) raced at full speed towards the site of impact. While others raced at full speed away from where the rockets were landing. For most of the day the streets were largely deserted as an eerie silence descended, waiting for the inevitable. Most families have already packed their bags and left for relatives and friends in the center of the country - particularly those with children. A lot of families chose to leave either the father or mother behind, with the spouse taking the kids to safety. And then, of course, there are those who have nowhere to go or those who have to remain because of work commitments. Together they stick it out and join in the Russian roulette.