Under sodden skies, Baltimore played host to what officials said was probably its last planeload of former hostages and refugees from Kuwait and Iraq yesterday as 160 people -- most of them women and children -- landed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
The evacuees landed in a torrent of rain at 5:05 p.m. and waited nearly an hour for a break in the weather before they disembarked.
The first person off was an American girl suffering from minor burns she received in Kuwait, state officials said. The girl, who was immediately seen by a pediatrician, was accompanied by her mother.
Smiling, waving and moving carefully to avoid slipping on the rain-slicked steps of a ramp leading from a mobile passenger lounge, the passengers finally touched U.S. soil a little after 6 p.m.
S. Wajid, a pediatrician who managed to get his wife, two sons and four daughters out of Kuwaiti City, said he was relieved to be in the United States.
"I feel very glad because the situation in Kuwait is deteriorating day by day," said Dr. Wajid, whose 18-year-old daughter, Maleha, is a student at Harford Community College.
He said gasoline supplies are scarce, and Iraqi soldiers are beginning to harass the Pakistani and Indians working in Kuwait. Many people are still trying to escape through the desert, despite the danger of an encounter with Iraqi soldiers.
An American-born Kuwaiti woman, who refused to give her name, accused the Iraqi army of rampant human rights violations and begged the United Nations and all Moslem nations to intervene militarily.
"People are being tortured and killed daily," she claimed. "The people of Kuwait need your help today. If they don't get help today, they might as well be dead."
The flights have presented unusual challenges to state workers, who did not expect to find so many people with nowhere to go after arriving in the United States.
Yesterday's Pan Am flight from London's Gatwick Airport, for example, carried only 54 U.S. citizens, and 106 aliens, according to the State Department. Most of the foreign citizens had some connection to the United States, usually through children who were born here and qualify as U.S. citizens as a result.
But yesterday's planeload was expected to be the last to Baltimore for the immediate future, according to Robert Gould, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.
The State Department has informed Maryland officials that the next flights will be routed to North Carolina. So far, Maryland has processed 607 people this week.