BALTIMORE – 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.
The chartered flight touched down about a half hour earlier than scheduled. Two other flights were expected in the next couple of days.
Family members waited anxiously at the airport for the evacuees to disembark.
Sandie Choucair, of Abindgon, Md., was waiting for her husband Mohamad, who had been visiting his mother in Beruit. She said she was antsy and couldn't wait to see him.
She said she spoke to him on the phone before he left and could hear bombs exploding.
"I could hear it over the phone and I just thought I was going to die a 100 times. It was an awful, awful experience to have to go through it," Choucair said.
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. American Red Cross workers were at the airport to provide medical assistance and other services.
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.