Airport chaos eases while violence flares in Cairo

Thursday, February 3, 2011

CAIRO -- In their rush, some forgot their bags.

The near mayhem at Cairo's airport over the past few days gave way to slightly more organized chaos Wednesday, with between 10,000 to 13,000 passengers making their escape aboard about 95 flights. Miles away, protesters fought supporters of embattled President Hosni Mubarak -- clashes sure to further stoke fears about growing instability in the country.

Governments stepped up efforts to fly out their nationals and others scrambled for seats on commercial flights whose schedules have been amended to accommodate an onerous curfew.

As the terminals cleared out, airport officials said they found 120 bags scattered around, left by owners anxious to clear Egyptian airspace.

The U.S. flew out more than 330 Americans on two flights on Wednesday, raising to more than 1,900 the number of U.S. citizens who have left on government-chartered aircraft. The flights Wednesday were the first since the State Department on Tuesday ordered non-essential U.S. government personnel to leave Egypt. Others opted for commercial flights

While few abided by the curfew, hundreds of passengers have found themselves stranded at the airport because of the difficulty of getting to a hotel.

Taxi service from the airport is almost nonexistent during curfew hours.

In a sign that the airlines were starting to adjust more easily to the curfew, only about 500 people remained at the airport Wednesday night -- a far smaller number than in the first few days of the mass exodus.

The flights largely came from abroad. EgyptAir, the national carrier, was flying only a fraction of its roughly 145 international and domestic flights as crew either failed to make it on time because of the curfew, or were too concerned about the mayhem on the street to come to the airport.

The State Department said additional flights were slated for Thursday to evacuate U.S. citizens, and officials are assessing the need to continue flights after that.

"Things are going very smoothly," said Roberto Powers, the U.S. consul-general in Egypt.

Germany reported that about 1,100 of its citizens flew out of Cairo and Alexandria the day before, and consular officials were deployed at Cairo airport, as well as other cities.

A chartered flight was dispatched by Britain's government to pick up British nationals stranded in Cairo. The cost per place was about $480 -- a charge the government defended as necessary to not undercut commercial carriers. The U.S. was also charging its citizens who opted for the evacuation flights, though the costs had yet to be determined.

Several South and Latin American nations -- including Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Argentina -- said they had chartered planes, or planned to, in order to fly their citizens to safety.

Brazil said it was aware of 42 nationals who are trying to leave Egypt, but a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said no special flights were planned because commercial carriers were available. She spoke on condition of anonymity as she was not authorized to discuss the matter.

Trinidad's foreign minister, Suruj Rambachan, said the Caribbean nation was trying to arrange commercial flights for the nearly two dozen nationals of the Caribbean island who want to leave Egypt.

One group that finally made it out was headed for Portugal. Airport officials said the 48 people were not allowed to leave on Tuesday, as they planned, because they showed up without passports.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

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