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A day of sirens, bombs, smoke and fires

'Shock and awe' phase is under way

One of the many huge explosions that rocked the Iraqi capital on Friday

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The first wave of the Pentagon's "shock and awe" bombing campaign hit the Iraqi capital Friday and the northern Iraq cities of Mosul and Kirkuk.

In Baghdad "A-Day" started at 9 p.m. (1 p.m. EST). The massive Republican Palace complex along the winding Tigris River appeared to take the brunt of the U.S. onslaught.

Journalist May Ying Welsh heard the air raid sirens and climbed inside a truck for cover from anti-aircraft shrapnel.

From there she watched the first of the cruise missiles strike downtown Baghdad.

"After a lull, I got to a higher position," she said. "That's when this huge strike happened and that's when I realized 'shock and awe' has definitely begun."

U.S.-coalition cruise missiles and precision bombs hit the city in a more or less endless stream for seven minutes. Pentagon officials said the campaign would send 1,500 bombs and missiles over Iraq in the first 24 hours.

Explosions rose like small mushroom clouds, filling most of the night sky with thick, dark smoke. Several large buildings in downtown Baghdad were aflame, sending columns of smoke drifting skyward.

A witness in a high-rise hotel, which was not hit, said the explosions rattled the hotel, causing floors to shake and windows to crack.

"Definitely every single person in this city heard and felt that bombing," Welsh said.

'A terrifying experience'

"It's quite a terrifying experience to be honest with you. It's heart-stopping when these bombs fall because they just have a very huge impact," Welsh said.

"They send some sort of shockwave through the air. You could feel the ground shake underneath you. and the sound of a missile streaking by is quite terrifying as well. It sounds like it's coming toward you. It shrieks by you and you have no idea where it's going to fall."

Phones in Baghdad were still working Friday night, Welsh said. Lights in buildings in the downtown district also stayed on throughout the bombing campaign and in its aftermath.

That indicated the bombing campaign was not designed to take out Baghdad's electricity grid, said CNN military analyst and retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Don Shepperd.

Although some apartment buildings in Baghdad have bomb shelters, most of the buildings are deserted, Welsh said. Residents left the city for outlying villages or fled the country altogether.

One woman told Welsh she was absolutely terrified by the bombing Friday night.

Another woman, standing next to her, told Welsh, "We're not afraid. We're Iraqis."

"No," the first woman told Welsh, "I'm terrified."

Welsh said she saw ambulances and firetrucks in the streets Wednesday and Thursday nights.

But other than some people protesting the bombings during the lull after the first wave, the city of 5 million was relatively quite Friday night, she said.

A much smaller bombing wave came at 10:30 (2:30 EST).

By 11:15 p.m. (3:15 EST) Baghdad air raid sirens sounded an all clear signal. But minutes later, the air raid sirens blared anew.

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