A Kassam rocket reportedly hit a four-story apartment building in Sderot Wednesday night. Several people were reportedly suffering from shock as a result, while another rocket hit a transformer, knocking out electricity in parts of the city.
Earlier Wednesday, the Sderot Municipality prepared to temporarily evacuate 4,000 residents after Palestinians fired approximately 50 rockets into the area around the Gaza border within 24 hours.
A 70-year-old woman sustained serious shrapnel wounds when a Kassam rocket hit her Sderot home, and was evacuated to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. A man was lightly wounded in the attack, and four others were treated for shock, bringing the total number of shock victims for the day to 18.
On Thursday, the city plans to close its schools for the second day in a row.
Wednesday marked the first time - after enduring more then 4,500 rocket attacks over six years - that city officials, with support from the Defense Ministry, planned the temporary removal of some residents.
The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the plan was not an "evacuation," but rather a program designed to give residents a break from the city.
Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal told The Jerusalem Post the temporary removal of 16 percent of the 24,000 city residents could be helpful, even though he had long been an advocate of standing firm and not leaving the city. The latest rocket barrage had caused something to snap among residents, he said.
"Something dramatic happened last night. I felt it in the air," said Moyal, before entering a meeting with military officials. "People almost cracked. I saw the anger and I saw that people cannot stand it anymore. They did not sleep last night. I believe the Israeli government feels the same."
Fearful and anxiety-ridden, more then 1,000 residents couldn't wait for the evacuation plan. Instead, clutching knapsacks and small travel bags on wheels, they crowded onto privately secured buses and headed to a hotel in Beersheba, with funds provided by tycoon Arkadi Gaydamak and other, anonymous, donors.
A few teens were so insistent on boarding the buses that they cut the line and climbed on through the windows.
In the past, Gaydamak has paid to help Sderot residents; in November, he funded a weekend vacation for 1,000 residents in Eilat.
A local activist and a member of the Committee for Sderot's Security, Batya Ketar, said neither the municipality nor the government cared about city residents.
On Tuesday night, she faxed a handwritten letter to the Prime Minister's Office asking for assistance, and when she didn't receive a "sufficient response," Ketar told the Post, she asked Gaydamak to intervene.
Chana Yaffa, a divorced mother of four who has lived in Sderot for 18 years, said she didn't care whether it was Gaydamak or the city who helped her leave.
All that mattered was that she and her two young sons, ages seven and 10, left, Yaffa said. She sat on a bench outside her apartment building with two small bags, smoking as she waited to be taken away.
As she watched the boys on the bench next to her, Yaffa said: "They're scared and I do not want them to stay."
She couldn't explain why it was this day of all days in the last six years that had led her to pack her bags. Four months ago, a Kassam hit near her apartment and shrapnel pock-marked her shutters, Yaffa said.
But that moment did not fill her with the same dread that motivated her to leave her home on Wednesday.
"We just have to go," she said.
Across the city in a small one-story home, Ethiopian immigrants Mivrah and Ishato Shimon sent their children away, but they decided to stay themselves.
A rocket that struck their home on Wednesday morning did not change their minds.
"We have no other home. Where would we go?" asked Mivrah Shimon.
Her husband added that danger could follow them anywhere.
They felt this way even though they believed that their lives and the lives of their children were spared on Wednesday morning by the grace of God.
On Tuesday night, Mivrah, Ishato and six of their children, aged four to 18, slept with their neighbors in a concrete shelter down the street because their home, like 80% of the city structures, are not protected against Kassams.
In the morning, they returned home. The children packed their bags and Mivrah took them to her mother's home outside of Sderot for safety.
Half an hour later, another rocket slammed through the roof of their home, crashing through the wooden ceiling, destroying the furniture and scattering clothing and debris in the bedroom.
"The children had just been in here packing. They could have been killed," said Mivrah as she sat on the bed surrounded by crumpled clothing.
She and her husband now plan to stay at her brother-in-law's home next door, even though it was hit by a Kassam rocket last fall.
To help those like the Shimon family who have stayed in the city, welfare workers stepped up their work, checking house by house and proving intensive post-trauma treatments, a Sderot city spokesman said.
"Since yesterday [Tuesday], we have been working with soldiers to make sure that the elderly and housebound people are getting the assistance they need," he said, adding that since last week, municipal workers and the Home Front Command have been distributing leaflets with emergency numbers and other important information.
The spokesman also said that a hot line had been set up to counsel distressed residents.
One such resident, 39-year-old Gil Bohadana, told the Post he had reached the breaking point following Tuesday's attack and could no longer deal with his fears in a rational way. He sought out a welfare service psychologist to talk him through the trauma.
"The immediate solution of the professionals is to throw pills at us to keep us calm, but I prefer to talk it out," he said.
Bohadana spent 10 hours with the psychologist on Wednesday.
Nahum Ido, spokesman for the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, said that Minister Isaac Herzog had asked social workers from the entire southern region to join forces with case workers in Sderot to provide residents with services.
He also said that last month the cabinet approved an additional NIS 1 million in emergency services for the municipality.
On a personal level, Kiryat Arba resident Eli Gilboa found his own way to help Sderot residents on Wednesday.
To lift their spirits, he brought his accordion and a smile to the city.
His wife, Ruti, who accompanied him, said: "We had thought to go to Jerusalem for the day, but instead came here."
As soldiers went door to door to check on residents' welfare, and others packed their bags, Gilboa wandered through the city center playing the Hebrew song, "We won't stop singing."
Ruth Eglash and AP contributed to this report.