First U.S. evacuees arrive

The first plane carrying U.S. evacuees from Lebanon landed early Thursday, state officials said.

The flight, which was expected to carry 145 people, touched down at Baltimore-Washington International/Thurgood Marshall Airport at about 6:30 a.m., the Maryland Emergency Management Agency said.

State officials were making plans to welcome the first wave of Americans with lodging, money, e-mail access, telephones and medical care.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich said he has directed the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Human Resources and other state agencies to help the evacuees when they arrive from Cyprus. The American Red Cross will provide medical assistance and other services.

“Pretty much anything that a traveler in this situation would need will be provided when they arrive at the airport,” said Jeff Welsh, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

The flights are part of a mass U.S. evacuation from Lebanon following the start more than a week ago of Israeli airstrikes. An estimated 8,000 of the 25,000 U.S. citizens in Lebanon asked to be evacuated.

A luxury cruise ship, the eight-deck Orient Queen, arrived in Cyprus early Thursday carrying about 1,000 Americans. The ship, which arrived at the port of Larnaca after a nine-hour trip, was the start of a massive relay to evacuate thousands of U.S. citizens from the war-torn area.

U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey D. Feltman said the evacuation would swell to up to 2,000 Americans a day, both by sea and by helicopter.

Relatives of Americans in Lebanon said they were frustrated and criticized the U.S. government for acting too slowly. The first Americans departed two days after the first Europeans left on ships.

Feltman said the evacuation’s slow start was intended to safeguard Americans. A call to the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was answered by a Marine who said he could not comment.

“I’m getting angrier and angrier. The American government seems to have money for everything else except its citizens,” said Joseph Rizzuto, a high school teacher in Queens, who was trying to get his daughter, Paola Rizzuto, 22, home. She was in Beirut with her boyfriend, Rafael Greenblatt, on a monthlong visit at the American University in Beirut.

In a telephone interview, she said they watched everyone else leave.

“They all got out — the Turkish, the British, the Danish, the French, the Spaniards and the Italians,” Paula Rizzuto said.

After registering for evacuation with the U.S. Embassy via e-mail, “we were supposed to receive an e-mail confirmation that we’re on the list, that they’ve received our registration,” she said. As of Wednesday, they had heard nothing.

In Baltimore, the health department planned to have licensed social workers on hand for people who might need counseling, especially any children traveling along. Extra U.S. Customs inspectors were being deployed, and the Transportation Security Administration was sending additional screeners to the airport to speed up the process for those making connecting flights, officials said.

“These folks have had a very quick disruption in their lives,” Ehrlich said. “They are coming with nothing. They need help.”


Associated Press Writer Verena Dobnick in New York contributed to this report.

 Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press