- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

Maryland officials said yesterday they are prepared for more U.S. evacuees from Lebanon to arrive at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport this weekend but anticipate that repatriation efforts at the airport are coming to a close.

“We have been led to believe that the flights will be ending soon, possibly [continuing] through the weekend, but possibly ending sooner,” said Jeff Welsh, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

About 3,771 evacuees from Lebanon have arrived at the airport on 16 government-chartered commercial and military flights since last week, Mr. Welsh said. The most recent flight landed Wednesday night with about 190 people on board, he said.

The flights are part of a mass U.S. evacuation from Lebanon, which has become part of the battleground in a war between Israel and the Hezbollah terrorist group.

According to the State Department, 14,341 American citizens had been evacuated from Lebanon, starting July 16, through Wednesday. Roughly 7,900 have returned to the United States on airplanes.

State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus said two more flights were scheduled to land yesterday at the airport and five were scheduled to land today but that those plans were “subject to change.”

Flights also have landed at Philadelphia International Airport, where another repatriation center has been set up, and at McGuire Air Force Base in Wrightstown, N.J.

Maryland thus far has spent about $600,000 on repatriation efforts, which are being coordinated by the state’s Department of Human Resources and Emergency Management Agency.

Mr. Welsh said the money has covered such expenses as staffing the airport nearly 24 hours each day and setting up relief services. However, most evacuees have paid for their hotel costs and connecting flights. The flights from Lebanon are being financed by the federal government.

Mr. Welsh said the federal government also will reimburse the state for its expenditures.

“Our understanding with [the Department of Health and Human Services] is they will reimburse the state for every penny,” Mr. Welsh said.

On Wednesday, Congress also passed a bill increasing the cap on federal reparation efforts from $1 million to $6 million, which gives the federal agency more money to assist evacuees.

The evacuees have received basic first aid and medical assistance, including medications for chronic illnesses and mental-health counseling. Toiletries, food and child care also are available.

Repatriation staffers also have assisted evacuees in making travel and hotel arrangements, though most are leaving the area for their home states quickly.

“They’re leaving for their final destination as soon as possible,” Mr. Welsh said. “When they’ve arrived late, before the morning flights begin, they’ve tended to stay in the airport so they can get their flights.”

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