AMMAN, JORDAN, SEPT. 7 -- In the beginning, after the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, some Americans trapped there sang and taught one another how to dance to kill time. At the end, they were reading, playing solitaire and hiding in air-conditioning ducts and attics in fear that Iraqi soldiers were coming to get them.

About 165 American women and children and a handful of other foreigners arrived in the Jordanian capital today aboard the first U.S. evacuation flight from Kuwait via Baghdad. Some broke down and cried at the first encounter with journalists, remembering the husbands and friends still held hostage in a country reduced to shambles under ruthless Iraqi occupation.

They told of a burning desire among the countrymen and Kuwaitis they left behind for U.S. forces to come to their rescue and drive the Iraqis out. They also told tales of brave Kuwaitis sheltering and supporting them at the risk of being executed by Iraqi troops.

Pat Arty, a robust woman from Haley, Idaho, said the most difficult thing she had to face after Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2 was not knowing what terrible new frights might lay in store. Raising a fist and battling back tears, she told reporters fervently: "I'm proud to be an American. . . . Love Bush."

Haley also recounted how "a great big beautiful thing was happening in Kuwait." She spoke excitedly of young, pampered Kuwaiti men used to "driving around in their Corvettes and fancy cars, hustling and picking up girls," who since the invasion had been "picking up the garbage, getting food for people trapped in their homes, hiding people, encouraging us."

The horror of imagining Iraqi soldiers rounding up Americans and taking them to serve as human shields at far-off Iraqi defense installations led some to hide in unlikely places. Patricia Hammer of Tampa recalled the day when "Iraqis came to our building. We hid in our air-conditioning ducts for 5 1/2 hours. We could hear them downstairs. We could hear their radios."

What had started out as a leisurely communal wait for the crisis to pass ended up in fearful isolation, as American residents of Kuwait huddled indoors to avoid becoming Iraqi pawns.

"In the beginning, we sang, we danced and taught one another the cha-cha and ballroom dancing. In the end, we were reading and playing solitaire. The whole mood was changing, and we did not want to draw attention to ourselves. We would shut the lights out at night and go to bed at 9:30," Oriole Hart recalled in an interview at a hotel near Amman's Alia International Airport.

Then one day a friend called to say: "The Iraqis are coming."

"There were four of us. We spent 4 1/2 hours hiding in a crawl space above the kitchen, like an attic, wondering when the Iraqis were going to come in the door," said Hart, a computer specialist from Denver who worked in a bank in Kuwait.

She said the experience of those few weeks in Kuwait had changed her values: "When I got to packing and had to quickly decide what I could and could not take, I started wondering what is really important to me anyway.

"This period of my life has enriched me, but what angers me is how one human being can mess up the lives of so many people," Hart said, referring to Iraqi Pesident Saddam Hussein.

In interviews at the airport, many of the women expressed outrage at what happened to Kuwait, a once beautiful and friendly country. Above all, they pleaded for their husbands to be saved.

Maureen Aldakheel of St. Louis, dressed in an elegant linen suit, said that foreigners in Kuwait were "getting tired of just sitting around and waiting for something to happen."

"They want the Americans to come in," she told reporters. When asked if Kuwaitis felt the same way, she nodded: "Yes they do. I am married to a Kuwaiti, and the Kuwaiti sentiment is that way, and that's the way I feel too."

Her message to President Bush was: "Go for it. Do something."

A woman with ginger hair and bloodshot eyes, who also had left her husband behind, was less contained. In a quavering voice, she described as "just terrifying" the ordeal of American families fleeing "from home to home to hide out."

"Just please help the Kuwaiti people," she urged. "They helped {the Iraqis} in this war for eight years, and {Iraq} turned on them. They fed a monster, and {Iraq} turned on this country."

Arty said Kuwaitis had called one another in a kind of chain communication to organize on Aug. 7 a midnight protest of the Iraqi takeover, and then again on Sept. 1 to mark the passing of a month since the invasion. "They all climbed to the roof tops to shout 'Allahu akbar {God is greatest}' "

She recalled how at 3 a.m. one morning she was awakened by all her neighbors at her doorstep ringing the bell. "They spotted a young man patrolling, and they thought I was in trouble. They all came to protect me."

Sandra Williams, an employee of the Kuwait Airways Services Company, a catering firm, expressed her surprise at how privileged, carefree and rich Kuwaitis had been transformed into an organized force after three days of occupation. "Within three days, there was an incredible organization," she said of an emerging Kuwaiti resistance movement.

"I have been in Kuwait for nine years. I have never seen a country come together like that. There they were. There was no government, no leadership. They have diwaniyeh," she said of the weekly gatherings in which men sit around, drink tea and talk. Several of the American women married to Kuwaitis said this kind of meeting is now a nightly happening.

The women said Iraqi soldiers were not always well organized, and that some of the younger ones were not properly fed, which made it easy to bribe them with water and bread at roadblocks.

Roberta Hogan, an elderly woman wearing a flower-print dress and protecting her eyes from the glare of television cameras, said her husband, a horticulturalist, was in hiding with a "wonderful gentleman." She said later at her hotel that it was "fantastic to be out," after all the weeks of boredom and waiting and cooking and performing endless menial tasks.

In the first two hours of the invasion, she said, Iraqi soldiers shot across a freeway at Kuwaiti troops trying to get to their cars in a parking lot, gunning them down.

"Kuwaitis were dying on one side, and people driving up the ring road were caught in the battle. They were being burned in their own cars. The bodies were then loaded onto trucks and taken to artificial ice skating rinks in town," she said.

Hogan said the Iraqis had ruined Kuwait, had stolen all the furniture and cars and wrecked all the elegant stores beyond repair. "Then they had the audacity to come to the city selling food at black-market prices -- beer, whiskey and fresh produce, grapes and melons. They were setting up little stores on the sidewalk. I could see them.

"If you could see how they have raped Kuwait. Glass windows are broken, car dealerships are all burned out. Soldiers came and banged out the glass with rifle butts to steal new cars. We had to leave a new car behind with keys still in it when we fled to go into hiding," she said. "Every day there was a major shock."

"I did not see fires, but the results of fires, senseless ones," Hart said. "The Safeway store was looted and burned and so was the toy shop called Kids R Us. There is nothing left but a black shell now.

"The Iraqis destroyed everything that was nice, just leaving shambles behind," Hart said of her last view of Kuwait.

Judy Evans Aljazre, of Florida, was an employee at the Japanese Embassy. She said she lost contact with her Syrian husband and four children on the first day of the invasion and believed they had all gone to Damascus to stay with her in-laws.

"I had to make a quick decision to leave. Either stay in Jordan or go to the States. I have no money. I am an emotional wreck, and I need to go home to be with my mother," she told reporters, who gave her money so she could call her family in Syria. "I didn't leave the {Japanese} embassy until the 24th, not knowing where the kids were."

She then went into hiding with another American couple and a friend. She said people never expected the standoff to last this long and had been planning what to do in case of a military attack or air strike. "We started thinking of basements and hideaways."

Hart observed that it was "all a matter of being cautious after overcoming the first big fear of hearing the Iraqi helicopters on Aug. 2 and realizing they were not Kuwaiti."

When she moved to another apartment with some friends and then back home again to pack yesterday, a Kuwaiti couple drove behind her for protection. "We could not be with them in the same car because they could be executed for helping us. All it would take would be for someone to point a finger at them and say: 'They are hiding Americans,' " Hart said.

"It is very frightening for them; the Iraqis did not treat them very nicely." Hart said Palestinian and Kuwaiti friends who could move around more freely had brought them food and other necessities.

"People were making a great effort to help us as foreigners. But for the poor and needy ones, the Egyptians, the Asians and some other residents who were less fortunate, there was not so much of an effort. Those people, the Asians, are really needed in Kuwait. If Iraq leaves, it will be difficult to get started without them again," Hart said of the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers fleeing Kuwait via Iraq and Jordan.

Jordanian doctors today reported the first case of cholera in a desert refugee camp holding Asian workers between the Jordanian and Iraqi border outposts.