Yemen: Saudi Arabia airstrikes terrify residents, turn Sanaa into ghost town

Sanaa, Yemen CNN  — 

Sanaa, the bustling capital of Yemen, has turned into a ghost town. Hundreds of shops are closed, and the once-crowded pavements are empty.

On Thursday morning, nearly every house in the city shook – the beginning of Operation “Decisive Storm” announced with a massive explosion that sounded very close, regardless of where you live in the capital.

Saudi Arabia has launched airstrikes on Houthi positions across Yemen, hoping to wipe out the Iranian-allied rebel group that has overthrown the government and seized power in recent days.

Thousands have fled Sanaa, but those who remained are stocking up on canned goods and food, fearing that the Saudi-led operation will take longer than expected.

Mohammed Hashim, an accountant who has lived in Sanaa for 20 years, evacuated his family from the area as the bombs began to fall.

“I am alone at home now, but my family is safe,” he told CNN. “They were not just worried about being killed by the airstrikes – the explosions at night are nonstop and very worrying. I want to leave Sanaa as well, but I need to feed my children.”

The explosions are almost nonstop here – every minute during the day, and every couple of seconds by nightfall.

The new best location for sleeping is under the staircase, the best way to safeguard your family from an airstrike.

At least 32 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since Saudi airstrikes began, according to the Houthi-controlled Ministry of Health. The Ministry said the death toll could be much higher and that many of the dead or injured remain under the rubble.

Thousands of families have headed to rural areas in the hopes that Saudi airstrikes won’t reach them there. Those who are too poor to relocate can only pray for safety.

Schools have been closed down, but there are no children in the streets. Electricity blackouts last as long as 10 hours a day, and residents worry that worse is ahead.

What to know about how Yemen got to this point

Over the last two days, hundreds of Saudi airstrikes targeted the Houthi-controlled missile brigade located in the outskirts of Sanaa in an effort to destroy the missile storage sites there, according to two Houthi military commanders.

The second night of airstrikes was more Saada then Sanaa. 15 locations in the province, home to Houthi supreme leader Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, were hit.

A strike in the Kitaf district of Saada hit a bazaar, killing four and injuring more than a dozen, the commanders said.

Another airstrike in Saada province killed six civilians from one family when their house was reduced to rubble.

After spending months ascending to power in Yemen, the Houthis are now surrounded by a Saudi blockade of land borders, ports and airports that has cut off any hopes of reinforcements.

Tens of thousands of pro-Houthi protesters gathered in Sanaa on Friday to call for jihad against the Saudis. They want Houthi boots on the ground in Saudi Arabia in retaliation for the strikes, and vowed to join in the battle against their neighbors to the north.

Al-Houthi condemned the Saudi operation but said that Yemenis would not stay quiet for long. Speaking live Thursday night on al-Masirah TV, he said: “If any army try to invade our country, we will prove that Yemen will be a grave for those who invade us.”

The Houthis have ordered the closure of media outlets opposed to them. Rebels raided Al Jazeera’s office in Sanaa and the Suhail and Yemen Shaban channels have gone dark. The prominent Al Masdar newspaper has been shuttered, and more than a dozen news sites – including the mouthpiece of Yemen’s powerful Sunni Islah party – have met the same fate.

These moves are retaliation for the closing of Houthi-controlled media channels by deposed Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who has fled the country.

No one knows for sure how long the Saudi assault on Yemen will last – but Mohammed Hashim knows who to blame for the current crisis:

“Instead of reaching a political deal, Yemeni political parties are now watching the collapse of Yemen,” Hashim says. “There is still hope, there still is. But political leaders need to wake up and save Yemen before it’s too late.”

Why is Saudi Arabia bombing Yemen?