Evacuees from Lebanon anxious to return to States
July 24, 2006
NICOSIA, Cyprus — The man came to an Air Force doctor complaining of severe chest pains.
But when the doctor told him they should probably send him to a local hospital in Cyprus instead of putting him on a plane to the United States, the man made a miraculous recovery.
Suddenly, he said, the pain went away.
When it comes to getting out of Cyprus and onto the next plane to the U.S., some evacuees will go as far as feigning medical conditions in hopes of leaving sooner, doctors and nurses said.
While the vast majority of the patients Air Force doctors saw at the Cyprus International Fairgrounds had legitimate medical concerns, some evacuees appeared to exaggerate or even make up ailments to get a seat on a flight faster.
Few of the attempts got past members of the Ramstein, Germany-based 435th Medical Group, sent to the island to provide basic medical care to the evacuees. But it made for interesting conversation later.
Cyprus is allowing the U.S. State Department to use its fairgrounds in the capital of Nicosia as a staging area for Americans evacuated from Lebanon and awaiting flights to the United States. Dr. Richard Nicholas, a U.S. State Department regional medical officer, said doctors and nurses are seeing a wide range of problems.
“We’ve seen a few sprains, headaches, lots and lots of stress,” Nicholas said. “These people have been under a tremendous amount of stress, a bit of dehydration because they’ve been traveling the last three or four days. But mostly they're tired and hungry and need a place to sleep.”
State Department workers and military personnel provided such things as food, water, Snapple, snacks, hygiene products, magazines, diapers and formula for evacuees. Many evacuees were grateful they were able to leave Lebanon, but were eager to leave the temporary shelter. The cooler, air-conditioned rooms were in hot demand due to the island’s humid weather.
The fairground is equipped to hold more than 1,000 people. Cots are spread out over several buildings. One of the buildings had air conditioning. But evacuees sweated under sweltering heat at two other locations.
While some grumbled, most said they were just happy to get out of Lebanon and escape the fighting.
Andre Abboud, 53, an engineer from California, went to Lebanon for a wedding. He stayed at the fairgrounds awaiting for a U.S. government-funded flight off the island and to the United States.
“I’m happy to be here,” said Abboud, whom doctors treated for a scraped knee. “It was terrifying. They bombed the bridges. They bombed the roads. I was only three miles away from some of the bombings. The whole house was moving and shaking. It was scary.”
Tony Elia, 46, praised the U.S. military for getting him and his family out of Beirut.
“We are proud to have such boys,” Elia said of the troops. “They are our heroes. They did a good job.”
But he said he is worried about his relatives in Lebanon and hoped to leave the fairgrounds soon.
“I would be more relieved if I get in the States soon,” Elia said.