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Egypt protests from afar: Americans wait nervously for loved ones' return

Egypt's street battles are especially worrisome to those Americans who have relatives living or traveling in Egypt. Even with skill and extra cash, a hurried exit from the country is problematic.

By Staff writer / February 2, 2011

Tourists make their way to a terminal to attempt to leave Egypt, at Cairo airport, Egypt, on Feb. 2. The US began evacuating nonessential government personnel and their families Wednesday.

Victoria Hazou/AP

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Los Angeles

Increasingly violent political demonstrations in Egypt are worrisome for television viewers all over the globe – but for none more so than those with relatives in the country. An estimated 50,000 Americans were in Egypt as the fire of activism spread from the streets of Tunisia to the central square of Cairo.

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The US State Department, which Tuesday ordered the evacuation of all nonessential government personnel, has issued a travel warning to Americans considering travel to Egypt. It has also arranged evacuation flights. According to the State Department, roughly 1,800 Americans had been taken out by late Wednesday. The evacuation flights are depositing the Americans in such safe harbors as Cyprus, Turkey, and Greece.

The speed at which the outcry against President Hosni Mubarak’s government spread took even seasoned travelers by surprise, says Payal Amin, a Los Angeles doctor. Her parents, aunt, and uncle had just landed in Egypt to begin what was to have been a 10-day vacation on Jan. 27.

Egypt protests: People to watch

“They barely had time to see the pyramids,” she says by phone while awaiting the group’s return on Thursday. The tour group was hustled away from the growing disturbances onto a Nile cruise, she says. But that was the end of any semblance of normalcy. They were shipped off to a hotel and by Saturday, were shuttered safely away from any tourist destinations.

“They tried to get on the evacuation flight on Monday,” she says, but “there were too many people trying to leave, so they couldn’t.”

Her relatives’ exit is being stage-managed from the offices of Friendly Planet Travel in Philadelphia, where Peggy Goldman, the company president and a 30-year travel veteran, has been updating families members of those on her tour from day one via her blog.

Against a background of chaos and canceled flights, not to mention airports clogged with trapped tourists with few routes home, her agency has been able to negotiate the return flights for her group largely thanks to a decades-long relationship with tour operators on the ground in Egypt. But even with that depth of personal contact, she says, it has been touch and go.

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