Standing at high noon in the middle of the Ahmadi oil field, all is as cold and black and quiet as if it were a moonlit pasture in the dead of the night.
On all sides in a full circle, near enough to hear their constant whoosh and feel their swirling heat, but distant enough to shrink their 10-story height into faint orange specks, burn hundreds of Kuwait's oil wells.Beneath them ooze lakes of pasty thick molten oil, running together into stagnant rivers of sickly sweet smelling poison.
And staggering blindly through it all, their white and brown coats and their sparse desert grass covered in black, wander some 50 starving cows left behind by the Iraqi invaders who created it all.
"It's really terrible," said Ayad Al-Kandari, his white robe filling with black speckles as he stepped through the gooey black tar lining the road through the Ahmadi oil field, about 15 miles south of the capital.
"They blew up about 90 in this field," said Al-Kandari, a drilling engineer for the state-run Kuwait Oil Corp.
Along with the physical and environmental horrors, the destruction - estimated at 80 to 85 percent of the 950 oil wells throughout Kuwait - will cost the country billions in lost revenues and repairs.
Iraqi troops, using specialists to help them place their explosive charges, blew up virtually every well at its base, thereby maximizing both the damage and the release of oil, Kuwaiti officials said.
Kuwait had produced about 3 million barrels a day, but with the wells blown open to "full throttle," its daily losses are very near 4 million barrels, said Ali Al-Qaband, the company's budget director.
The country has put out the word throughout the world it is seeking any and all help to fight the oil well fires, and it already has some commitments.
"The magnitude of this problem is beyond the capability of Kuwait," said Musab Alyaseen, the oil company's general superintendent for reservoirs. "We need the help of everyone."
Even with that, he said, the work is expected to take years, the losses of oil to total perhaps hundreds of millions of barrels, and the cost to easily be in the billions.
According to Kuwaiti experts, the job was made tough by the Iraqis, who as on of their first orders of business upon invading Kuwait Aug. 2, brought in experts who showed troops exactly where to place their explosives to cause the maximum damage. To maximize the effect, the troops then placed sandbags on top of their charges.
Then, in rapid succession just before the start of the allied ground offensive 11/2 weeks ago, they pulled the detonators, venting the desert sands with geysers of huge cascading orange fires and suffocating black smoke.
"They blew the whole thing off, so the wells that are on fire are really at full choke," Al-Qaband said.
Experts still need military minesweepers to clear the oil fields before examinations can be done, but initial indications are that many will require the most costly option for putting out the fire - drilling a side well through which mud is pumped to cut off the fuel source.
That process takes about 45 to 55 days per well and costs at least $3.5 million apiece, Alyaseen said. If needed on a large scale, the recovery process could take 10 years, he said.
In the meantime, Al-Qaband said, the oil company will concentrate on producing at least enough energy to meet the country's own needs for producing electricity, fueling automobiles and running water desalination plants.
"We don't want to import oil," he said. "Being one of the major exporting countries, we do not want to reach that stage where we have to import oil to satisfy our own domestic demands."