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Will refugees swamp relief agencies?

/ Source: NBC News

Workers for humanitarian agencies are racing to construct a tent city for thousands of refugees who are expected to flee Iraq into Jordan and other neighboring countries in coming days. But people escaping from Baghdad Thursday said the main road connecting the Iraqi capital and Jordan was bombed overnight and at least one civilian killed.

A few dozen tents went up on Thursday morning in a camp near here, some 35 miles from the border with Iraq. Non-Iraqis fleeing from Iraq will be sheltered here, and already Thursday several dozen Sudanese workers and their families were huddling in the tents, which were being whipped by winds of 30 to 35 mph.

The border area has been swept by sandstorms for the past three days.

A second camp, for Iraqis, was being constructed a few miles away.

Reporters visiting the border area Thursday morning found it was open, but the Jordanian military quickly ordered journalists to move away, saying a six-mile zone around the border was closed to the press.ROAD FROM BAGHDAD BOMBED

Some of the people who made the five-hour trip from Baghdad to Jordan Thursday said they saw evidence that the road and a fuel depot about 100 miles west of Baghdad had been bombed.

Passengers on a bus said they had to drive around craters in the pavement. And several people reported seeing bodies at the fuel depot, including that of a Jordanian truck driver. Although the station is used by civilians, it could also be used by Iraqi forces moving west from Baghdad into the desert.

Officials of the Red Crescent said the two refugee camps they are constructing should be adequate for 30,000 to 50,000 people, and could with difficulty handle as many as 100,000. But if the refugee population is much larger, as it was during the 1991 war, they say they would be overwhelmed.

Refugees will be given a blanket, a mattress, medicine and a box lunch, but it will be several days before a kitchen can be set up. Wells were drilled for water, but it was too salty, so desalination gear was brought in.

Authorities say a ticket office will be set up for non-Iraqi refugees, so as many as possible can purchase transportation back to their home countries.

(Jim Maceda is an NBC News correspondent reporting from the Jordan-Iraq border. NBC News correspondent Mike Taibbi also contributed to this report.)