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First American evacuees from Lebanon arrive in Baltimore

The first plane carrying evacuees home to the United States from Lebanon landed early Thursday, and eager family members and volunteers waited to welcome its passengers.

The flight, carrying between 140 and 150 people, touched down at Baltimore-Washington International/Thurgood Marshall Airport at about 6:30 a.m., said Tracy Newman, a BWI spokeswoman.

The plane landed about a half hour earlier than scheduled. Other flights were expected in the next couple of days.

Family members waited anxiously at the airport for the evacuees to disembark.

Sandie Choucair, of Abindgon, Md., was waiting for her husband, Mohamad, who had been visiting his mother in Beruit. She said she was antsy and couldn’t wait to see him. When she spoke to him on the phone, she said, she heard bombs exploding.

“I could hear it over the phone and I just thought I was going to die a hundred times. It was an awful, awful experience to have to go through it,” Choucair said.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich said he has directed the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Human Res-ources and other state agencies to help the evacuees when they arrive from Cyprus.

American Red Cross workers were at the airport to provide medical assistance and other services.

State officials said e-mail access, telephones, help finding lodging and medical attention were available to evacuees.

The flights are part of a mass U.S. evacuation from Lebanon following the start more than a week ago of Israeli airstrikes. An estimated 8,000 of the 25,000 U.S. citizens in Lebanon asked to be evacuated.

A luxury cruise ship, the eight-deck Orient Queen, arrived in Cyprus earlier Thursday carrying about 1,000 Americans. The ship, which arrived at the port of Larnaca after a nine-hour trip, was the start of a massive relay to evacuate thousands of U.S. citizens from the war-torn area.