Charter flights that begin Monday will ferry the first of thousands of Americans away from the escalating crisis in Egypt, the State Department said.
“We will keep running the charter flights until we get [all] people out,” said Assistant Secretary of State Janice L. Jacobs.
Relatives back home in the United States are relaying needed information to those trying to get out of Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor and other cities, she said. Internet service is down in most of Egypt and frustrated travelers have had to find other ways to get information.
“Lack of internet access makes our job more difficult,” Jacobs said.
The State Department has established telephone numbers and an e-mail address for “understandably worried” Americans in Egypt and loved ones to communicate with the U.S. Embassy, she said.
The State Department is sending additional employees to Egypt and the “safe haven” locations in Europe to assist in the effort, Jacobs said Sunday.
Officials are looking at Istanbul, Turkey; Nicosia, Cyprus; and Athens, Greece, as possible destinations, although the list was not finalized Sunday afternoon, said Jacobs, who oversees consular affairs.
Government dependents and nonessential employees will be among the first to go, although any private U.S. citizen who chooses to leave will get out during the week, she added.
Those private citizens who do fly a charter will have to reimburse the government for the ticket and must make his or her own plans for further travel once they reach a “safe haven,” Jacobs said.
Officials don’t expect to need assistance from the U.S. military.
Travelers in Cairo and elsewhere have been upset by their lack of access to information and, in some cases, a live person on the phone.
The staff of the Cairo Embassy has been overwhelmed by inquiries and the State Department has a 24-7 task force and call centers, said Jacobs, adding that radio and TV, along with websites and telephones, are being utilized to provide travel updates.
The government is asking family members in the United States to continue assisting in the effort.
“That seems to be working pretty well,” she said.
Jacobs advised Americans not to swamp the Cairo airport, which is open but is seeing more flight cancellations.
Travelers, if they have a commercial airline ticket, should continue working with their carrier on getting out, Jacobs said.
The U.S. Embassy has advised Americans in Egypt to limit their movements, avoid protests and use taxis when possible to reach the airport. Travelers should arrive in plenty of time and obey the hours of the curfew, which may be lengthened.
“We have a short window of time to operate these flights,” the official said.
When asked about efforts to assist Americans in Alexandria, Luxor and other cities outside Cairo, Jacobs said the government is trying to get information to them and might considering flying charters out of areas with large pockets of citizens who cannot get to Cairo. About 100 Americans are stranded in Luxor.
Laura Murphy, who is on a stranded Nile River tour, told CNN that the ship’s captain has anchored the boat in Luxor after being warned against docking at any of the stops along the Nile because those areas may be unsafe for tourists.
Murphy said two men with plane tickets to Cairo were stuck in Luxor because the plane never showed up.
“You cannot get away by water. You cannot take public transportation because it is unsafe and you cannot fly,” Murphy said. “I’m safe but trapped.”
Other countries, including Turkey, already have begun to fly out their citizens.
The State Department’s charter flights will give first priority to Americans, Jacobs said.
“If there are seats available, we can make those available to other citizens,” she said.
The State Department advises people interested in taking a charter flight out of Egypt to send an e-mail to EgyptEmergencyUSC@state.gov or call 202-501-4444. Relatives concerned that their loved one in Egypt may require help can use the same e-mail address and the same number if they are outside the United States or Canada. Those in the United States or Canada can call toll-free at 1-888-407-4747.
Government updates on Egypt: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/pa/pa_egypt_faq.html
U.S. Embassy in Cairo: http://egypt.usembassy.gov/
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