Somalian refugees who escaped the fighting in their homeland Wednesday told of fierce fighting between rebels and troops loyal to President Mohammed Siad Barre.

Efforts were under way to evacuate foreigners from Somalia's chaotic capital.Hundreds were reported dead in four days of fighting, many of them civilians. Rebels are seeking an end to the pro-Western president's 21-year rule, but there were fears the fighting could degenerate into interclan warfare.

Telecommunications with the Horn of Africa nation of 8 million were cut Tuesday.

Some of about 20 Somalis arriving in Kenya's capital aboard a commercial flight from Mogadishu, the Somali capital, said fighting was heaviest near the center of the city and in its northern and western suburbs.

They said the rebels appeared to have substantial popular support and were not harming civilians, but that government forces were attacking innocent people.

One woman, who arrived with six children ranging in age from about 2 to 10, said they walked five miles to reach the airport on Mogadishu's south side.

"The situation is very bad," she said. "We could hear 24-hour bombing."

She and the others interviewed at Nairobi's international airport spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation against relatives still in Somalia.

All said the fighting was no closer than three miles from Mogadishu's airport, contradicting earlier rebel claims that they had Siad Barre surrounded in a bunker at the field.

"It's heavy, heavy, heavy fighting. You can't sleep. The noise is too much," said another woman who arrived with her wounded husband.

She said he had been shot in the arm and chest on Dec. 18 when stopped by government security forces in Mogadishu. He was taken to a Nairobi hospital for treatment.

The first woman said hundreds of ordinary citizens were fleeing Mogadishu on foot, many of them heading for the town of Asgoy 20 miles away.

"It is not safe to drive because the police will take your vehicle," she said. "People are saying the government is getting weaker and weaker."