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The scene at Cairo's international airport was one of chaos today, as thousands of foreigners, tourists, business travelers and diplomats looked to get out.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was at the airport earlier today and sent this report.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Traffic was backed up a mile outside of Cairo's main airport. Taxis and vans with suitcases piled on the roofs jockeyed for a better place in line. The terminals were equally chaotic.

Hundreds of passengers couldn't get inside because of the crowds. They rolled their suitcases into a long queue that extended into the parking lot.

Dutch citizen Else Leegte says her husband's company called them late last night, telling them to pack light and get to the airport. She says all she took with her were important papers and her laptop. Leegte says she doesn't even know where the jet the company chartered is taking them, other than somewhere in Europe.

Ms. ELSE LEEGTE: It's unreal. It's unreal. This is not the way I see Egypt. It's a shame, actually.

NELSON: New Zealander Angela Hey says her husband, Owen, works for Shell Oil Company, which also ordered the families of the employees to evacuate last night. She and their 13-year-old son, Nathan, and 11-year-old daughter, Rebecca, were being flown to Amsterdam, where Hey says they will try and figure out what to do next. She says they didn't want to go.

Ms. ANGELA HEY: Yeah, we've got some good friends that are still here. My driver, my maid, I mean, they have to stay behind. I'd like to think that we'll come back very soon. Yeah.

NELSON: The many Egyptians standing in line appeared less optimistic. Dozens pushed trolleys packed with multiple suitcases bursting at the seams because they planned to stay away for a long time.

Mariam Asaad is one who will be gone for at least a year. The 20-year-old pharmacy student hails from the Cairo neighborhood of Heliopolis, where Hosni Mubarak has his presidential palace. But she says she, her brother and dad were flying to Australia because they feel unsafe with thieves and thugs breaking into their neighbors' homes.

Ms. MARIAM ASAAD: You know, there's no policemen, there's nothing in Egypt at the moment, you know? So it's just horrible.

NELSON: She says it was a hard decision as they were forced to leave her mother and other relatives behind because they couldn't get a visa.

Ms. ASAAD: So we're still worried about the other people. We're still worried about our country, you know? So we don't know what to do.

NELSON: The U.S. embassy, meanwhile, issued a warning for Americans to leave the country as soon as possible.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo.

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