July 2006

AC360 Blog: Call to prayer, silence, then 'boom'

Call to prayer, silence, then 'boom'

There was a moment last night, as we were preparing for the program, when it was so peaceful and quiet that I could have been convinced the war had ended. We were on a balcony overlooking downtown Beirut; the first call to prayer was sounding.

We had been in Beirut for 20 hours and this was the first time I remember hearing the call. I am sure that's because it was the first time I was able to focus on it.

We flew in yesterday morning on a Marine chopper, landing on the embassy grounds. Within minutes, before we had even moved away from the landing pad, the helicopter lifted off with a group of evacuees inside. Many of the Americans on board were far too young to really understand what was happening. Little boys seemed torn between fear and the excitement of getting to dress up in a military helmet and life vest.

As we drove south from the embassy towards the center of the city, the cars in the northbound lane were bumper-to-bumper. Our driver explained that people were literally heading for the hills, the mountains in northern Lebanon, to wait out the war. It was the first time I'd heard someone wish the war would end soon and not sound like they believed it would.

Beirut really is lovely, quite possibly the most beautiful city in the Middle East, even with very apparent and still open scars from this conflict, and the conflicts that have come before. People here always seem to be whispering conspiracy theories; some think that once all the foreigners leave, the real shelling will begin. It's a frightening thought if you've seen pictures of what has already been done to the Hezbollah stronghold in the southern suburbs.

On the balcony last night, the illusion of peace ended a few minutes after the call to prayer, as the silence was smashed by a massive explosion to the south.

Posted By Thomas Evans, CNN Producer: 4:08 PM ET

AC360 Blog: This is their lives

This is their lives

I had just put down my lunch plate from the hotel buffet when the first siren went off. I never took a bite, and I am just realizing, I never paid either.

We scrambled out onto the hotel restaurant's balcony, where we could see most of Haifa spread out down the hill below us.

The scary thing about rocket strikes is that even with the siren sounding you can't see them coming. No streak of fire across the sky. Not a lot of sound. That is, not until the thump when it hits.

This time, the thump was very close, and soon, a plume of thick white smoke started to rise. Within a few minutes, we jumped into our van and tore down the hill.

The site was pure chaos -- filled with police, EMTs, onlookers, and of course, the throng of world press. Bullhorns were blasting and photographers snapped endlessly at the blast-splattered building.

Then, just as we felt we had a grasp of the scene around us, the siren sounded again. The crowd went from pushing and shoving in the street to huddling together under any cover we could find.

I found myself squeezed in a boarded-up shop doorway with a cop and a photographer. A second dull thud and a second sprint to the van. By then, we were all drenched in sweat. Summer in Israel really isn't body armor weather.

This strike felt very different. The first rocket hit an unoccupied office building. This one hit a more residential neighborhood.

I watched as the apartment building slowly started to catch fire. I saw a man holding a woman in the alley behind me. She was shaking violently in his arms as he tried to console her.

I've never blogged before, so forgive me if this rambles. But as we rushed off to feed tape and throw the rest of our gear in the van to make the next flight to the next story, I am still thinking of that couple, people for whom this war isn't dramatic pictures and adrenaline.

When the crowds leave the neighborhood, this tale won't be just another story running on tonight's news. For the countless innocent people in Israel and Lebanon, this is their lives.

Posted By Thomas Evans, CNN Producer: 2:43 PM ET