BEIRUT, Lebanon – Most Americans who want to leave Lebanon have done so and U.S. evacuation efforts are nearly complete, the U.S. consul said Sunday as Navy hovercraft whisked remaining Americans to ships anchored in Beirut's harbor.
U.S. Consul William Gill also urged any holdouts considering leaving to make up their minds quickly as fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas continued for a 12th day.
"The U.S. Embassy is urging all Americans who wish to depart Lebanon to do so now. Please do not wait for a phone call," he said in a taped statement broadcast on AP Television News. "We are now in the latter stages of transporting Americans who wish to depart Lebanon. We believe most Americans have done so."
The U.S. State Department said late Saturday that more than 10,000 of the estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon have fled since July 16.
U.S. officials, were distributing Gill's message to media outlets in hopes of reaching any Americans holed up in their homes, stressed that evacuation was not mandatory.
Meanwhile, Americans were ferried in groups of 150 out to the USS Trenton anchored in Beirut's harbor as it prepared to leave for Cyprus later Sunday. The troop transport vessel has a capacity for 1,800 passengers, but it was uncertain how many people would be on board at departure.
The USS Nashville also was ready to take up to 1,000 evacuees. And an Italian-owned commercial ship, the Victoria M, was under contract with the U.S. government and poised to take more Americans, if needed.
Some 3,000 Americans could be evacuated from this war-torn country Sunday, but officials were unsure whether that many would turn up.