The explosion of a Patriot missile fired from a nearby air base jarred me to consciousness at 1 a.m.

An American missile had just flashed by my bedroom window to intercept an Iraqi Scud. Clouds on the northeastern horizon glowed a brilliant but threatening red-orange. The thunder of the explosion rattled through the house.Sitting upright in bed, my delusion of safely living in the Saudi capital hundreds of miles from the battlefield vanished. I put on my gas mask.

Nearly a dozen more explosions occurred in rapid succession. Fire trailed more Patriots as they streaked to intercept incoming enemy missiles. Additional flashes showed that the missiles had found their targets.

To the south, flames trailed a missile descending slowly about two to three miles away. The roar of its impact shook the ground. Arab friends living closer to the impact later spoke of plaster shaken from walls and children screaming as they ran to the protection of their parents' beds.

Outside, pieces of the destroyed rockets rained to earth, sounding like heavy hail. The next morning, the gardener showed me a piece of a rocket, and a colleague found a piece on his front porch as he left for work.

As quickly as it started, the attack was over. The air- raid sirens ceased, and after a while the all-clear signal sounded.

But the nagging fear of chemical weapons kept me in my gas mask for nearly an hour. The fear was heightened by the loud clicking of my smoke alarm. I would later find out from a neighbor that the noise meant the alarm's battery was low.

I called my wife in Salt Lake City to tell her I was safe. Our conversation turned to when I could get out, but with airports closed to commercial traffic, the prospect of returning home soon looks grim.