Video: Ever safe to return?

updated 7/28/2006 1:18:27 PM ET 2006-07-28T17:18:27

The exodus from Lebanon began in earnest for Americans on Wednesday, but thousands more are waiting for their ride out of the war zone. Here are three reports from NBC correspondents on the situation.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Anxiety gave way to relief for some Americans here. They're on their way home. As they left, some told me they wonder if it'll ever be safe to come back here.

Finally, the mass exodus is under way. Close to 1,000 Americans on Wednesday escaped on the cruise ship Orient Queen.

"It's bittersweet," says Teresa Douglas of Memphis, Tenn. "You want to leave, but you worry about the people you leave behind."

An estimated 25,000 Americans are in Lebanon. Four thousand to 5,000 are expected to evacuate. According to the U.S. Embassy, no one with a U.S. passport will be turned away, and all passages to safety will be free.

I asked Linda Ballout of San Francisco if she'd be coming back. She replied with nervous laughter.

The U.S. Embassy says the plan is for the Orient Queen to return and keep coming back until every American who wants out leaves.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — I'm with Americans still stranded in Beirut.

"Dogs are treated better than us," one told me. "This is not acceptable!"

Their anger at the U.S. government is intensifying.

"We came here," says another. "We waited for half an hour to be told our name is not on the list."

Most of the thousands of Americans who want to get out can't yet.

Harvard researcher Garo Toby and his wife have a 2-year-old American daughter.

"If you call them on the phone, you get one story," he says. "If you go to the embassy, you get another story."

The confusion has led to questions about fairness.

"We are not being informed who is going," says David Simaan. "Why are these people going? And why are we not going?"

So Wednesday night these Americans are preparing for another nerve-shattering night under Israeli fire.

The State Department on Wednesday claimed U.S. officials are doing everything they humanly can to protect their fellow citizens but conceded those officials are facing a tough time in this war zone.

LARNACA, Cyprus — The Orient Queen docked at about 6 p.m. EDT here. It was a long 8-hour journey for the 1,044 Americans on board. Our crew is by the boat now, waiting for those first images of folks getting off. Our crew tells me they've seen smiles, they've seen peace signs, generally, just signs of relief to be here in Cyprus. The folks still have a very long evening ahead of them. They'll be processed at a building about 500 yards from the boat. Inside, they'll be able to meet with about nine travel agents to try and determine their future travel plans. We're told by the U.S. embassy here that some used cell phones during their journey to make their own plans. The State Department has arranged for three charter flights to take off Thursday afternoon. They can accommodate about 300 people apiece, so they could accommodate everyone on this first boat. But the U.S. embassy expects that perhaps some might stay a few extra days, waiting for others still in Lebanon to get here.

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