Chaos in Egypt spills over into travel hub as thousands of foreigners look for a way out of the embattled country
Cairo’s international airport was a scene of chaos and confusion Monday as thousands of foreigners sought to flee the unrest in Egypt and countries around the world scrambled to send in planes to fly their citizens out.
Nerves frayed, shouting matches erupted and some passengers even had a fistfight as thousands crammed into Cairo airport’s new Terminal 3 seeking a flight home. The airport’s departures board stopped announcing flight times in an attempt to reduce tensions — but the move backfired, fueling anger over canceled or delayed flights.
Making matters worse, check-in counters were poorly staffed because many EgyptAir employees had been unable to get to work due to a 3 p.m.-to-8 a.m. curfew and traffic breakdowns across the Egyptian capital.
“It’s an absolute zoo, what a mess,” said Justine Khanzadian, 23, a graduate student from the American University of Cairo who was among those waiting at the airport for hours to leave Egypt. “I decided to leave because of the protests, the government here is just not stable enough to stay.”
A U.S. military plane landed at Larnaca Airport in Cyprus on Monday afternoon ferrying 42 U.S. Embassy officials and their dependents from Egypt. The U.S. Embassy in Nicosia said at least one more plane was expected Monday with about 180 people — most of them U.S. citizens. U.S. officials have said it will take several flights over the coming days to fly out the thousands of Americans who want to leave Egypt.
In Cairo, EgyptAir resumed its flights Monday morning after a roughly 14-hour break because of the curfew and its inability to field enough crew. Over 20 hours, only 26 of about 126 EgyptAir flights operated, airport officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
By midday, an announcement filtered through the crowd instructing groups of Danish, German, Chinese, British and Canadian passengers that their governments had sent planes to evacuate them, prompting a nervous stampede toward the gates.
The officials said many countries were working to evacuate their citizens, with Turkey sending four flights, Israel and Russia sending two planes each and the Czech Republic one. They said those additional flights had helped ease the airport’s restless crowds, but those gains were short-lived as other foreigners and Egyptians poured in.
In a geopolitical twist of fortune, even Iraq decided it would evacuate its citizens, sending three planes to Egypt to bring home all those who wish to return — for free. Thousands of Iraqis had once fled to Egypt to escape the violence in their own country.
Transportation Ministry spokesman Aqeel Hadi Kawthar said two of the flights had already returned to Baghdad, and a third flight was expected in soon. He had no immediate figures on how many Iraqis living in Egypt took up the offer.
Nearly 320 Indian nationals were evacuated Monday from Cairo to Mumbai on board a special Air India flight and another 275 expected to reach Mumbai later in the day. An Azerbaijan flight carrying 80 adults, 23 children and the body of an Azeri Embassy accountant killed in the unrest arrived in Baku.
China sent two planes Monday and was sending two more charter flights Tuesday to help pick up an estimated 500 Chinese stranded in Cairo. It issued a warning urging citizens not travel to Egypt and embassy personnel handed out food and water to Chinese at the airport.
That echoed earlier warnings from Britain, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and the Czech Republic, which all advised against all nonessential travel to Egypt. Many European tour companies canceled trips to the country until Feb. 23, others left the cancellations open until further notice.
One big question was what to do with the tens of thousands of tourists in other parts of Egypt. Tour operators say they will fly home all their customers this week when their holidays end, or on extra flights, stressing there has not been any unrest in Red Sea resort cities like Hurghada or Sharm el-Sheik.
Britain’s Foreign Office estimated about there were around 30,000 U.K. tourists and long-term residents in Egypt, but said Monday it has no plans to evacuate British citizens. Foreign Secretary William Hague has advised against all but essential travel to Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and Suez and recommended that people currently in those cities leave on commercial flights when they can.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said, unlike tourists from the United States and other nations, most Britons were on vacation at beach resorts on the Red Sea.
But Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki said food shortages were starting to be felt at Egyptian resorts and that some restaurants were refusing to serve foreigners.
Bosacki said the Polish airline LOT would fly to Cairo on Tuesday to bring back those hoping to return, but said there was no immediate need for an evacuation.
Indonesia was sending a plane to Cairo to start evacuating some 6,150 Indonesian citizens — mostly students and workers — and SAS Denmark said it would fly home some 60 Danes stranded at Cairo airport.
The Danish company shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S chartered a plane to pick up relatives of its Danish employees, the Danish Embassy said. The company itself said there were no terminal operations in Egypt on Monday and the Maersk Line, Safmarine and Damco offices were closed.
Air France canceled its daily flight from Paris to Cairo on Monday and planned to increase its capacity Tuesday by an extra 200 seats to help bring passengers back.
Portugal sent a C-130 military transport plane to evacuate its citizens, and Greece put military planes on standby.
Hadjicostis reported from Nicosia, Cyprus. Staff in Associated Press bureaus around the world contributed to this report.
More Related Stories
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Moore officials: Funds for "safe rooms" were held up by red tape
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Rescue crews race to find tornado survivors
- Looting in Oklahoma?
- Hundreds of low-wage federally contracted workers strike in D.C.
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- Inhofe and Coburn: Red state hypocrites
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Watch: Family emerges from storm shelter after tornado
- Must-see morning clip: Barackalypse Now
- Okla. tornado survivor reunited with dog trapped in rubble live on camera
- Is Pope Francis an exorcist?
- Oklahoma death count confirmed at 24, 9 children
- Frantic parents search for children in tornado's wake
- Crews dig through rubble after deadly tornado
- 51 killed in massive Oklahoma tornado
- Don't cry climate-change wolf
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11