- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

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.S. State Department, which left at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Cyprus time.

They flew five hours to Manchester, England, and after a three-hour layover took a seven-hour flight to BWI.

Ryan Usumi, 16, of Prince Frederick, Md., was vacationing in Lebanon with his father, who was in the Middle East on business. Ryan arrived in Lebanon on July 8.

He and his father were staying in a hotel near the airport in Beirut on July 12 when they heard that Hezbollah had crossed the border with Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.

When Ryan woke up July 13, he heard that the Beirut airport had been bombed by Israeli jets.

“It was unreal. I didn’t think it was really happening,” Ryan said.

He and his father moved to a largely Christian area north of Beirut and then were evacuated by helicopter to Cyprus.

Ryan’s father went on to Turkey for work, and Ryan, who will be in 11th grade at Huntingtown High School in Frederick, came home.

Evacuees are responsible to pay for their own travel home once they reach U.S. soil, but the federal government will loan them money if they left cash and credit cards behind, HHS spokeswoman Christina Pearson said.

“They are keeping track of it if they gave out a loan,” Ms. Pearson said. “A waiver will be given if someone is truly destitute and cannot pay.”

This is thought to be the first repatriation in Maryland since a planeload of citizens passed through BWI after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Several days after the bombings, about 220 people, most of them embassy personnel and their families, arrived at BWI from Pakistan after the United States ordered private citizens and most embassy personnel to leave after receiving warnings that the lives of the estimated 6,700 Americans in Pakistan could be in danger.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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