At BWI, joyful reunions are worth the long wait

Loved ones endure unpredictable arrivals, confusion as U.S. citizens evacuated from Lebanon fly home

July 23, 2006|By CHRIS YAKAITIS | CHRIS YAKAITIS,SUN REPORTER

Fayad Kazan brought a bouquet of red and pink roses for his wife. He had five stuffed Mickey Mouse dolls and five American flags, one for each of his young children. From 8:30 a.m., he sat in a cordoned-off section of the international arrival terminal. He waited.

An additional 454 U.S. citizens returned home from Lebanon yesterday on two flights from Cyprus that touched down at 9:45 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Kazan's family members were not among them.

Kazan, 62, stood near the end of a line of National Guard reservists as the second wave of evacuees arrived. While young children shouted "Daddy!" and ran to their expecting, smiling fathers, Kazan stood eagerly with his welcome-home gifts.

His wife had called Friday night to say they were boarding a plane due to arrive in Baltimore. By 4 p.m., it was clear they weren't coming.

As Maryland Department of Transportation officials scrambled to check manifests for as many evacuee flights as they could find, Kazan walked down the terminal to make a call.

He was not the only one waiting.

Gilda and Ranya Radwan returned from Cyprus earlier than expected. Gilda, 16, wore a pair of dog tags a Marine had given her aboard the USS Nashville. She sat with her eyes closed, listening to Linkin Park's "Don't Stay" on an iPod as she waited for her mother to drive from Fairfax, Va.

A few seats away, two fathers from Tampa, Fla., waited for their wives and children, who had missed earlier flights in the evacuation when a bus in Cyprus took them to the wrong airport.

"It's entirely unpredictable when they're going to come," said Jeff Welsh, a spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

Several more flights were due to arrive overnight and early today. Welsh said planeloads of evacuees would be arriving at BWI at least until Wednesday.

Already, more than 1,300 have re-entered the country through the airport.

On his weekly radio show, Stateline, on WBAL-AM yesterday, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. defended state involvement in the repatriation process after an e-mail questioned how much it would cost Maryland taxpayers.

"It's not that large amount of money, but in any event, it's the right thing to do," he said. "These are Americans and in some cases [are in] dire straits, and we need to be there to help them."

Most evacuated Americans have praised the military for its efforts and courtesy in getting Americans out of Beirut.

But one woman, in tears, said the U.S. government needs to do more to save Americans who are trapped in villages south of the city and can't get to the embassy.

"They asked us to drive to Beirut, which is a two-hour drive, while they're bombing the roads," said Mary Ann Abbass, of Dearborn, Mich. "I have two babies, how was I going to get there?"

Abbass said she and her children got a ride with French officials who had come to evacuate their citizens.

"They need the U.N., they need to ask the U.S. to help them go through the villages, they need to escort the people that are stuck in their houses," she said. "My friend, she drove, she has children. She put the baby in and she drove to Syria. And I don't know if she's dead or not."

Kazan, a writer, drove back home to Falls Church, Va., yesterday evening. "They told me that they are on their way, but they don't know which airplane or what time," he said by telephone. "It's a very strange thing. It's not one person. It's all my family, six people."

He planned to return to BWI at 4:45 a.m. today. On his way home, he stopped at a toy store to buy more gifts for his children.

"So they can get excited," he said. "It will give them some excitement after all of this."

chris.yakaitis@baltsun.com

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