Isle teacher still stuck in Lebanon
The evacuating ship is overbooked, forcing Sarah Ahmadia to stay in a hotel in Beirut
The Big Island teacher who was among thousands of Americans trapped in Lebanon was forced to spend another day in Beirut after the U.S. Embassy overbooked a chartered cruise ship.
"Today was such a major disappointment," Sarah Ahmadia told the Star-Bulletin yesterday in a cellular-phone interview from Beirut.
"They expected 20 percent of the people not to show up. Ninety-five percent of the people showed up," she said.
"This is a mess. They need to do better than this," Ahmadia said.
Ahmadia, 27, a biology teacher at the Keaau campus of Kamehameha Schools, along with her aunts and cousin, are among at least 200 Americans now scheduled to fly to Cyprus by helicopter today. Her other aunt and two cousins, ages 2 and 7, who had also planned to flee Lebanon, decided to stay with relatives for now, said Ahmadia's father, Jamil Ahmadia.
All were originally scheduled to be among 1,000 Americans to board the Orient Queen to evacuate Lebanon at 1 p.m. Beirut time yesterday. Because of the overbooking, Ahmadia said she and other Americans were put on a priority status list to travel to Cyprus, a 50-minute ride by helicopter at 11 a.m. today (10 p.m. last night Hawaii time).
"They were trying to appease us as much as possible," she said. "They've assured us that they will take us out."
About 8,000 of the 25,000 Americans stuck in Lebanon requested to be evacuated.
"It's been an emotional roller coaster. We were all somewhat relieved when we heard yesterday (Tuesday) she was on her way home," Ahmadia's father said.
"The bottom line, I'm thankful she's not hurt," he said, adding that he hopes there will be no further delays.
Ahmadia was staying in a hotel in Beirut yesterday before she was to travel to Cyprus.
Among the stranded was a 15-year-old boy and his two sisters, 3 and 8, of Washington, D.C., whose relatives had dropped them off, thinking the children were to be part of the group to immediately evacuate.
Ahmadia said the children's parents, who spent a week of their month-long Lebanon vacation in Kuwait when the bombing occurred, were to reunite with them in Cyprus. "Their parents left the day of the bombing," she said. The children were staying with relatives while their parents were in Kuwait.
"We got them a room at a hotel, and they're staying together," Ahmadia said, noting that she spoke to their father through the 15-year-old boy's cellular phone to let him know that she is watching over them. "I told him, 'Don't worry, they'll be fine,'" she said.
Despite her frustration with the U.S. Embassy, Ahmadia remained positive. "It's going to work out, but it's hard news to hear this morning," she said.
Once Ahmadia reaches Cyprus, she and her relatives plan to stay there for one night before they fly to London through Cyprus Airlines at 3:45 p.m. Friday (2:45 a.m. today Hawaii time).
"At least we got travel arrangements to London," she said.
Ahmadia arrived in Lebanon on July 8 for a three-week vacation. Four days later, her cousin witnessed a bombing while they were at a beach south of Beirut. The following morning, Ahmadia and her relatives found out through television news that the airport and other parts of Lebanon were being attacked.
Bombs exploded within 500 yards of her relatives' home in Sofer, a summer resort town near Beirut where she was staying, prompting her and her relatives to head to Sharoon.
Ahmadia noted that Israel had stopped bombing Beirut yesterday while Americans flee Lebanon.
Her hotel room overlooks the ocean, where she can see warships of the Israeli blockade at a distance.
"It's pretty intimidating. ... The bombs that almost hit us came from one of those ships. That's a very scary thing to think about when (you're) looking at them," she said. "I'll be so glad when I'm home."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.