After a night in which shellfire turned the sky a blazing red, thousands of residents poured out of Beirut today in a brief lull before rival Muslim and Christian gunners resumed artillery bombardments that have devastated areas of the city.
Cars piled with bedding and belongings headed from both Muslim and Christian sectors for villages in remote areas after two weeks of fighting in which at least 78 people have died and 242 were wounded.
Other people left the city for villages in the south and east of the country.
Security sources estimated that 17,000 artillery shells hit residential areas during the last five days after Christian army commander Maj. Gen. Michel Aoun vowed to drive Syrian forces from the country--even if Beirut was flattened.
“The night of fire covered half of Lebanon,” Beirut’s leftist As Safir newspaper said of the ferocious Christian-Muslim artillery duels overnight.
“The sky poured rain and shells. Even thunder could not silence the thud of artillery explosions,” the independent An Nahar added.
“It’s like living in a concentration camp of lunatics,” a resident of Christian East Beirut said.
An estimated 4,000 shells rained down on East Beirut on Monday. About 1,000 shells hit Muslim West Beirut and the Druze-held Shouf Mountains to the southeast.
But most Lebanese, battle-wise after 14 years of civil war, survived as buildings crumbled in flames and smoke all around them.
As the bombardment eased at dawn today, initial hospital casualty reports showed only six people killed and 12 wounded.
“I never thought I would come out alive after this horrific night. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to die of a heart attack if not of a shell,” said one resident of East Beirut.
“It’s complete madness out there. This is the worst night we’ve witnessed,” said a woman after days crammed into a shelter.
Smoke still billowed from a fuel tank in the Dawrah oil refinery in East Beirut. Schools, businesses and shops stayed closed.