TEL AVIV, ISRAEL, JAN. 18 (FRIDAY) -- A few seconds of wailing sirens -- followed by an eerie hissing noise -- was all the residents of the working-class Ezra neighborhood of south Tel Aviv had before an Iraqi missile slammed into their midst early today.

The missile missed hundreds of tightly packed bungalows and roared to earth in an empty lot, nearly demolishing two small houses and ripping apart the facades of three others with its blast. Dozens of nearby houses were damaged but only seven people were injured.

Sarah Shour, 23, a diamond setter, said that when she heard the siren, she and her parents and three small children ran to a room that they had sealed with plastic sheeting and tape. They donned their gas masks only seconds before the building shook from an explosion that sounded like "the end of the world," she said.

"We thought it was gas. We were in shock. I was shaking. I was so frightened, I thought we were going to die," Shour said.

Several hours after the attack, she and her neighbors watched a bulldozer clear the debris of the worst-hit houses.

"I want Israel to give them {the Iraqis} hell. We've got America on our side. She's our ally. I'm glad of the situation now," Shour said, referring to the U.S.-led strikes against Iraq.

Another Ezra resident, Yosi Levy, a 45-year-old construction worker, said he heard the warning siren and barely got to his gas-proof room before he heard an explosion. "I knew it was a missile. I thought it was gas for sure," Levy said.

Police said the missile carried a conventional warhead.

The explosion ripped apart the ceiling of Levy's home, blew out the windows of his living room and damaged two rooms in the rear of the house, which is two blocks from where the missile landed.

Several neighbors said they heard a loud hissing noise immediately before the explosion.

Residents said they regarded it as miraculous that nobody was killed. In the early daylight hours, as they gathered to watch workmen clear the rubble, they managed to joke about the incident.

Simon Lavian, 30, who runs an appliance store in Tel Aviv, recalled that the city's mayor, Shlomo Lahal, had remarked that "if a missile comes, there is no place for it to park in Tel Aviv. "This missile found the only place in Tel Aviv to park," Lavian said, pointing to the lot where it struck.

Another missile, also carrying a conventional warhead, hit a textile factory near Ben Gurion International Airport, east of the city, and started a fire. Other missiles fell in the Haifa area.