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Frightened foreigners flee Libya 'hell'

Foreigners told Thursday of hellish scenes in Tripoli as they fled the chaos engulfing Libya, with countries worldwide urgently trying to get their nationals out.

world Updated: Feb 25, 2011 02:07 IST

Foreigners told Thursday of hellish scenes in Tripoli as they fled the chaos engulfing Libya, with countries worldwide urgently trying to get their nationals out.

Thousands of foreigners packed Tripoli's airport hoping to escape the widening crisis, with those who managed to leave describing anarchic scenes, with food and water supplies running low.

Governments sent planes and ships in a bid to rescue their citizens from the mounting lawlessness as Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi pursues a bloody bid to cling to power.

"Libya is descending into hell," said Helena Sheehan, who made it to London Gatwick Airport on the first specially-chartered British rescue flight.

"The airport is like nothing I've ever seen in my whole life," the 66-year-old said. "It's absolute chaos. There's just thousands and thousands of people trying to get out."

Fellow passenger Jan McKeogh added: "It's usually a very, very safe area but there were absolute maniacs over there."

Italy, the nearest major European country, warned of a looming "catastrophic humanitarian crisis" as migrants flee north Africa.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni saying they faced a potential "invasion of 1.5 million people" that would bring Italy "to its knees."

The logistical challenges were especially acute for Asian countries with more than 150,000 low-paid workers trapped -- including some 60,000 Bangladeshis and 30,000 Filipinos.

China ramped up a massive air, sea and land operation to evacuate more than 30,000 of its citizens, with over 4,000 transferred to the Greek island of Crete on Thursday.

Thailand, which has more than 23,000 workers in Libya, said it was making preparations to get its citizens to Malta, but warned it may be safer for them to stay in their compounds than to travel to a port.

India said a 1,000-capacity passenger ship had arrived on the Libyan coast to begin evacuating some of its 18,000 nationals to Egypt, adding that the operation had been hampered by poor communications.

Migrante International, a support group for Philippines workers abroad, said Filipinos had been left to fend for themselves, as Vice President Jejomar Binay planned to fly to the region to review emergency plans.

An official at the Vietnamese embassy said it was trying to get its 10,000 nationals out, but warned that they were short of food and water.

A South Korean warship was on its way, while Seoul has chartered a plane to fly some of the estimated 1,400 South Koreans still in Libya to Cairo.

Hundreds of US nationals and other foreigners have boarded a US-chartered ferry in Tripoli but high seas delayed their departure for Malta.

The EU's executive arm said it would provide "extra evacuation capacity" including by sea to help bring out an estimated 10,000 stranded Europeans.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "incredibly sorry" for the delays in getting British nationals home, as the first two charter planes made it out.

The government said it was looking at all options to rescue people stuck inland in desert camps, refusing to rule out military means.

Turkey evacuated upwards of 6,000 of its nationals over three days by air, sea and land, but thousands were still waiting to leave with an estimated 25,000 Turks based in Libya.

More than 300 Russian railroad and oil workers and their families returned to Moscow aboard three planes.

"They burned down a police station next to our house. There is a lot of gunfire at night -- rounds of machine-gun fire. We spent sleepless nights," one woman told Russian state television on arrival.

Brazil and Canada were among other countries striving to get their nationals out by ship or plane.

On land, the regional head of the Red Crescent told AFP that around 5,000 Tunisians had fled home over the border, with 830 Chinese waiting to cross.

Monj Slim said the organisation was ready with medical aid and food for people coming across.