Passengers pack Tripoli's airport Tuesday, desperate to catch a flight and leave Libya. Several countries are sending planes and ferries to Libya to evacuate their citizens.
Passengers pack Tripoli's airport Tuesday, desperate to catch a flight and leave Libya. Several countries are sending planes and ferries to Libya to evacuate their citizens. Michele Cafiero/AP
U.S. efforts to evacuate hundreds of Americans from Libya are being stymied by bad weather on the coast — and by the refusal of Moammar Gadhafi's government to allow American charter planes to land there.
Some 285 people have been sitting on the Maria Dolores, a chartered ferry, since Wednesday, as the ship's crew waits for the stormy seas to calm, according to State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley says.
The ship isn't likely to leave port until Friday, according to reports.
In a Newscast spot, Michele Kelemen reports that 40 of the ferry's passengers are U.S. embassy personnel and their families, 127 of the passengers are private U.S. citizens, and the rest are from other countries. And some of the American passengers are identified as security personnel.
The weather did not stop China from using two large ferries to take 4,500 Chinese workers to safety on the island of Crete, the AP reports. And aircraft from France and Britain have been able to get citizens from those two countries out of harm's way.
In a briefing, Crowley was asked why Britain's Royal Air Force was able to land a Hercules aircraft in Libya, which then took a planeload of Britons out of the country.
"We chartered a ferry, which would have the equivalent passenger load of two or three aircraft," Crowley said.
"Had we been luckier with respect to the weather, everyone would be comfortably in Malta," he said. "That's not the case, but we will get that ship underway as soon as the weather permits."
In an interview for Thursday's All Things Considered, Helena Sheehan, a professor emeritus at Dublin City University, tells co-host Michele Norris about her ordeal getting out of Tripoli and returning to Ireland.
"The Tripoli Airport is real airport hell," Sheehan says. As she approached, she saw people camped out in the rain nearby. Getting closer, she saw "heaving masses of people trying to get in the airport."
"And then when you get in the airport, there are thousands and thousands of people in the airport," Sheehan says, and seemingly no one to ask for direction. "I felt absolutely lost," she said.
After finding a group of Irish and British citizens, Sheehan boarded a bus — which drove around on the tarmac for 45 minutes to look for their plane. Eventually, they were returned to their original gate, and told to get out.
That's when British officials stepped up, and told Sheehan and her group that they could have a ride out of Libya on a British plane.
"When it lifted off, it was fantastic," she says. "Fantastic."
Not everyone has been so lucky. At today's briefing, Crowley said that "there are roughly 5,000 people currently at the Tripoli airport."