| A US Marine helps bring an evacuee on board an amphibious landing craft from a Beirut beach on Thursday. (AP)
Aboard the USS Nashville, July 20 (Reuters): US Marines waded ashore on a Beirut beach today and evacuated about 1,000 Americans to Cyprus, where thousands of foreigners have fled to escape Israeli air strikes against Lebanon.
About 40 lightly armed Marines, aided by Lebanese soldiers, helped 1,052 Americans, including many children, to a troop carrier that set sail for the eastern Mediterranean island as two big booms shook the Beirut coastline.
The Marines are back in Lebanon nearly 23 years after a Shia suicide bomber blew up their barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 220 Marines and 21 other service personnel.
Soothed by classical music from the USS Nashville’s loudspeakers, evacuees on the ship’s main deck appeared relieved their ordeal was ending.
“It was total chaos,” said Hisam Ajouz, 18, from Dearborn, Michigan. “Everyone was trying to shove their way to the (US) checkpoint. Women were screaming that they had babies and old people looked like they were on the verge of collapse.”
The Americans are among thousands pouring into Cyprus since Israeli air raids began nine days ago, including scores of young children, the old and infirm.
Authorities expect many more to arrive by military and civilian ships to the island, which is struggling to cope at the peak of its tourist season and asked its EU partners for help in dealing with the crisis.
US officials have said they can evacuate 6,000 people by tomorrow, the British have sent a warship to bring about 2,000 out early tomorrow and several countries said they were bringing home thousands more. “What we are trying to do is get people on two charter flights tonight,” US ambassador to Cyprus Ronald Schlicher said in Nicosia.
“After we move these folks, we will have an even bigger wave in the next couple of days. We are trying to calibrate the best we can the inflow and the outflow,” he added.