Road to Nowhere

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The journey to Tyre in South Lebanon from Beirut, normally a one hour drive, has become a white-knuckle tear through twisty mountain roads and a bombed-out coastal highway that takes five hours.

We left for Tyre this morning after loading up on food and water for several days. Other correspondents have told us the situation is grim there, and that we need to bring our own supplies. We also considered bringing our own fuel, because the Israelis have reportedly bombed most gas stations in the area, so a black market for fuel has developed. Five gallons of gas now cost $50 — if you can find the gas at all. Bombing the gas stations is ostensibly to limit Hizballah's movements, and maybe it's accomplishing that. But it's also making the cost of fleeing the part of the country south of the Litani River too expensive for many of the poor families here.

But we decided against the fuel and instead careered up and down single-lane routes through the spectacular mountain scenery of the Chouf, the Druze homeland. Things were calm through the various towns of the area, with open stores and people on the streets. We saw a number of cars and minivans coming north, bedecked with white clothes and full of families with grim faces.

By the time we left the mountains of the Chouf and slalomed down into the coastal town of Sidon, however, we stopped seeing the cars moving north. Often, our two-car convoy was the only one on the road. Sidon is a main waypoint for refugees from the south on their way north, and according to local officials, 30,000 refugees are in the seaside city, which normally has 100,000 people.

Continuing on south, the road grew lonelier and more ominous. In two places, large craters, perhaps 20 feet deep, almost completely blocked the highway south. The turquoise blue, postcard scene of the Mediterranean to our right was shattered by the churned black earth around the lips of the craters. Near one, a minivan had crashed into a telephone poll. Inside the other, down the road, someone's car, a red Toyota, I think, looked like it had fallen inside, almost as if it had been carelessly tossed aside like a toy.

Finally entering Tyre was like entering a ghost town. There was no obvious damage, but there were almost no people. As we got deeper into town, near our hotel, more people appeared: young men sitting on plastic chairs watching the traffic and drinking tea. Our hotel is in a Christian area of town and considered safe from Israeli bombs. The young men are there to make sure no Hizballah fighters come in and bring the Jewish state's wrath down on us.

But other neighborhoods suffered. Just 30 minutes after my arrival, in a section of the city called Madrassa al-Daniyah, two Israeli bombs punched their way through the roof of a three-story home and turned the kitchen on the ground floor into a six-foot-deep crater. The bedrooms and the living room were shattered. We had heard the whistling zing of the falling bombs, but none of the journalists was sure what they were. Bombs? Outgoing Katyushas? Bombs, as it turns out.

"We were talking and making dinner," said Habib Shaheen, 37, who lives next door to the house. "Maybe they were going for the mosque."

No one was hurt in the dual bombing, but suddenly the Lebanese army showed up and pushed everyone back. One of the bombs hadn't exploded and was still live. Hizballah minders were also present. They're laying low in the town, but when something happens they swarm over it. One scruffy-bearded young man confiscated a reporter's memory card when he took an unapproved picture.

Tonight, the drones are overhead, buzzing like flies. I can hear the sounds of jets, too, the engines of the F-16s grumbling high overhead. We have the young men to keep out Hizballah. But as the family in the bombed out house learned, who or what can keep out Israel's bombs?