AMMAN, JORDAN, JAN. 18 -- Baghdad under siege by Western air power resembles a ghost town, with much of its civilian population gone and those residents who remain hiding in shelters, waiting for the air onslaught to end.

This picture of life in the embattled Iraqi capital emerged today as Western correspondents made their way out of Baghdad and arrived in Jordan. They described a city living through a 21st-century bombardment, in which military targets have been hit with pinpoint accuracy but residential areas have generally been spared.

Iraqi officials boasted of this morning's missile attack against Israel and vowed to fight on. But ordinary Iraqis appeared stunned at the ferocity of the bombardment by U.S. and allied fighter-bombers and cruise missiles, which are much more powerful than anything Iraq faced during its eight-year war with Iran.

"Even in the bomb shelters, the mood changed literally overnight," said Nigel Baker, a producer for Britain's Independent Television Network who spent nearly 15 hours crossing the Iraqi and Jordanian deserts in a small convoy to reach Amman this morning.

"When the attack began early Thursday, the {Iraqi} parents in the shelter were leading their children in hand-clapping chants of 'Palestine belongs to the Arabs, Kuwait belongs to Iraq.' But in the morning, after hours of explosions outside, they ended the night frightened into silence, their children clinging to them and crying.

"Another Iraqi friend told me almost in tears, 'I never thought this would happen.' It was as if they'd suddenly become so afraid, realizing perhaps for the first time that this wasn't going to be another great victory for Saddam," Baker told the Los Angeles Times.

Although the bombing campaign has been intense, the correspondents' accounts indicated that it has been targeted at selected military, communications and command facilities, and that residential neighborhoods in Baghdad have mostly been spared.

Anthony Massey, a British Broadcasting Corporation producer who left Baghdad today, told the Los Angeles Times, "The city appears virtually undamaged because of the accuracy of the cruise missile . . . but it is completely deserted."

Those families who have not fled are staying in candlelit homes, reported Maamoun Youssef, a Reuter correspondent who remained in the city. He said all shops, markets and restaurants have been closed for the past two days. Electricity was cut off at the start of the first raid early Thursday, ruining food stored in refrigerators. Residents fear grave difficulties in getting food.

Most gas stations are closed but hundreds of drivers have flocked to those with hand-operated pumps. All phone lines are cut and the flow of tap water is becoming weaker, Youssef reported.

The correspondents arriving here today brought with them the first footage of the bombing campaign against Iraqi military targets and infrastructure that began 48 hours ago. It was a light show of green and blue flashes, trails of tracer bullets and a Baghdad skyline ablaze with explosions.

"When it started, I thought to myself: The game is over, for me, for Baghdad and everyone else. I was overcome by a tremendous, horrible fear," said Karl Wendl, 32, a correspondent for Vienna's Kurier newspaper, of the first few hours of the bombardment.

"A bomb exploded nearby, a glass pane burst and women with small children arrived. I don't know where they had come from. They were crying and screaming and panic-stricken like us. . . . The last wave of planes left with the muezzin's call for morning prayers at 5:20," he added.

A handful of Western journalists, mainly Britons working for the print media and the BBC as well as correspondents of the Cable News Network, have remained in Baghdad.

Baker, the British TV producer, said the first nighttime bombing raid was "terrifying."

"When daybreak arrived, I expected to see outside my window a city in pieces, but there was no destruction in sight. A few windows were broken and there was no one in the street," he said. "The communication tower was damaged, one wall was cracked but not collapsing. Target-hitting was precise."

The reporters who left Baghdad said they had to scramble to find cars, drivers and gasoline to make the long, dangerous drive to the Jordanian border. Forking out $3,000 to $4,000 per vehicle, the journalists managed to flee but drove right into the middle of a strike against an Iraqi military base, with antiaircraft batteries opening up on both sides of the road.

Some left their cars and waited in the wilderness as Iraqi soldiers fired red flares to deflect heat-seeking missiles. "We sat in the desert for 2 1/2 hours while explosions fell around us. We did not hear the planes, just the thuds of bombs," Wendl said. A two-car CBS convoy had to stop as well, with one car parking halfway under a bridge to dodge fire hitting the road, according to producer Larry Doyle.

Buoyed by last night's Iraqi missile strike against Tel Aviv, the first such Arab attack into Israel, Iraqi officials kept up a barrage of defiant rhetoric today, even as the civilian population huddled in basements short of food, water and gasoline.

Information Minister Latif Nassif Jassim insisted that Iraq was not at all stunned by the outbreak of war and vowed it would emerge victorious.

Baghdad's official radio station said, "The war has just started, . . . a war between good and evil," adding that it "will be a long-term confrontation." The blood of Americans and their allies would spill "drop by drop" in a war that would only be decided on the battlefield, said al-Qadissiya, mouthpiece of the Defense Ministry.

Iraq claimed it had turned the skies over its capital into a "mass of fire" and had shot down 72 enemy aircraft in 36 hours. Jassim said some American pilots of downed planes had been captured and that they would appear on Iraqi television.

Baghdad radio interrupted revolutionary songs to read military statements saying its "missile forces have hit political and economic targets in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other areas" in Israel early today.

"Let the United States hear the wailing of its daughter implanted in the heart of the Arab homeland," the radio said, quoting Military Communique Number 4 of the day. Iraq's missile commander said the attack had "avenged the suffering of the Arab and Moslem people and of the Iraqis and Palestinians."

"The United States wanted to spare Israel the burden of war and . . . keep it as an onlooker enjoying the aggression of the aggressors," one commentary said.

Iraq also repeatedly denied U.S. claims to have shot down an Iraqi missile over Saudi Arabia with the new Patriot ground-to-air missile.

Jassim said the bombing of Iraq had killed many civilians, mostly elderly people and children, but gave no figures. "It is a shame on the 'new world order' that Bush has called for."

Asked how Iraq could claim victory with power cut off and communications disrupted, the Iraqi information minister argued that his country was in good shape: "The important thing is human life and high morale."