American Evacuees Bring Horror Tales from Lebanon

Article excerpt


LINTHICUM, Md. - The first 150 American evacuees from war-torn Lebanon arrived early yesterday at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, telling stories of frantic attempts to get out - tales of anger, fear and guilt over those they left behind.

"We lived through horror. .. Just get out alive - that was it," said Tom Charara, 50, an aerospace engineer from Long Beach, Calif., who was in southern Beirut with his wife, Rola, and their two children to visit Mrs. Charara's parents.

"My dad is very sick. I think it was my last chance to say goodbye to him," said Mrs. Charara, 38, choking back tears. "I didn't see him before I left. I didn't even get a chance to give him a hug."

The plane - an Omni Air International DC-10 - arrived at 6:30 a.m., and the first evacuees were through customs and talking to the press by 7 a.m.

About 8,000 of the 25,000 Americans in Lebanon are seeking to evacuate the country, which has become embroiled in a violent conflict with Israel.

As many as 800 evacuees are expected to arrive through tomorrow on as many as eight flights. The second flight was expected to land late last night.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. opened BWI on Wednesday as a repatriation center for Americans fleeing Lebanon, in response to a request from the federal government.

Evacuees were guided through U.S. Customs to a help center where state officials had computers and phones available to communicate with family and friends.

Anyone needing housing during the day or overnight will be given a room in one of the hotels near BWI, as well as some cash for "incidentals" from the state comptroller's office, officials said.

The Refugee Resettlement Program, which is operated by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), provides assistance to evacuees for up to 90 days after they return to the United States.

About an hour after landing yesterday, most of the 150 evacuees had headed for connecting flights or had left with family or friends.

The Chararas were in Beirut for 11 days before they found a way out, on a Norwegian cargo ship packed with 1,110 other passengers, mostly Dutch.

Mrs. Charara, who was born and raised in Lebanon, spoke to her father by phone as they rushed to leave.

"I told him, 'I'm leaving.' He said, 'Yeah, OK, that's a good choice.' And then I got disconnected," said Mrs. Charara, a blue blanket draped over her shoulders. "I felt guilty. .. Because I have an American passport I have the right to live?"

Mr. and Mrs. Charara, their daughter, Shahrazad, 8, and their son, Ali, 7, were on the cargo ship for 16 hours.

Their ship landed in Cyprus, and the Chararas were put on a plane chartered by the U. …