- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

LARNACA, Cyprus — Waves of evacuees continued to flood the southern coast of Cyprus, with incoming families uprooted from Lebanon far outstripping available hotel rooms at the height of tourist season.

Several hundred Americans are temporarily billeted in fairgrounds just outside Larnaca, the country’s largest coastal city, where children watch cartoons and parents bide their time waiting for flights back to the United States.

They sleep on orange camp beds inside a vast concrete exhibition hall, a place that has been transformed with small human conveniences such as automated teller machines and food service.

“We’ve had some small problems, but it’s not as bad as it could be,” said one U.S. State Department official.

“For example, a lot of the people who are leaving are Muslims and this is a country where they eat a lot of pork. Catering has been tricky.”

So has the evacuation.

Working through temperatures in the mid-90s, U.S. Marines carried small children and assisted the elderly and weak through a 10-hour voyage that left many disoriented, heartsick and exhausted.

Before setting sail, overheated crowds waited for hours in the sun near the Beirut port for the next available ship.

“I never thought I would leave Lebanon, or my family,” said a very pregnant woman, visibly shaken, as two toddlers swarmed over luggage and chased each other around the Larnaca airport.

“This has been a very long voyage, and I need to get them food, and to bed,” she added softly. “And I must sit down.”

Military officials estimated yesterday that most of the U.S. citizens who have asked to be evacuated will be out of Lebanon by the weekend.

Cyprus, a rocky resort island, is famous for its vast coastal beaches, Wedgewood blue seas and abundant night life.

“There is not a hotel room to be had,” said an official with the Cyprus Tourism Office. “We are already quite full this time of year, without this.”

In Beirut, U.S. troops stood watch as evacuees boarded helicopters to be taken to U.S. warships waiting offshore.

At a nearby beach, people also climbed aboard landing craft to be taken to ships offshore.

Turkey has joined in the evacuation, taking some of the pressure off of Cyprus.

One ship arrived in the Turkish port of Mersin yesterday with about 300 Canadian evacuees, who were given flowers, Reuters news agency said.

A day earlier another 1,000 Canadians and about 100 Swedish nationals escaping the violence in Lebanon.

Workers were adding lights at Mersin’s docks and a sports complex in the nearby city of Adana was turned into a camp, from where evacuees would be flown out.

“We are working at a capacity of about 1,000 people a day,” Canadian ambassador to Ankara Yves Brodeur told Reuters.

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