CARS screeched to a standstill as drivers abandoned vehicles, lunchtime joggers jumped into flower beds and office managers screamed at staff to run for the stairs.
On the first-floor of the beachside hotel, breathless strangers huddled in fear as the city's air raid sirens signalled an impending strike.
The rocket fell short and hit the sea, but the explosion shook the building. Two women retched with anxiety.
Tel Aviv, Israel's biggest city, threw open its air raid shelters after rockets landed inside the city boundaries for the first time in 20 years after being launched by fundamentalist Palestinian groups from Gaza. Scenes once confined to towns near the border played out in the heart of Israel for the first time since Gulf War in 1991.
The gnawing fear of doing the wrong thing was as powerful as the shock of the wailing alarm. "Go to the stairs, stay there for 10 minutes. It's all I know to do," said Michelle Oren, the hotel manager. "I don't know if its right but it's what I learnt at school and I feel safe for now."
The rocket dropped into the Mediterranean less than 200 yards from a shoreline clustered with embassies and five-star hotels. Two strikes on Thursday had also fallen short – one in outer suburbs and another further out to sea.
Micky Rosenfeld, the spokesman for Israel's police force, confirmed the Fajr-5, an Iranian-made rocket, was considered to have landed in the city of 400,000, albeit not on land. When the moment of panic had passed, Tel Aviv residents affected an attitude of indifference.
Frishman beach, opposite the point were the rocket fell, was full of bathers at sunset. Aki Coren (66), said: "I don't give a damn about these rockets from Gaza. The Gulf War sent us some real trouble to talk about but these Gaza attacks are just something to worry the children."
Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, said the attacks on Tel Aviv had justified the decision to launch air strikes against Gaza. (© Daily Telegraph, London)