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Last Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
'I'm happy to be here but tired'
By Jenny Matthews
BBC News, Limassol

As some of the Britons evacuated from Lebanon arrived in Cyprus they spoke about their ordeal.

The hundreds and hundreds of people trooping off the enormous grey warship HMS Bulwark looked exhausted but relieved as they greeted the blazing Cypriot sunshine.

Britons leave Beirut
The evacuation has left Britons tired but relieved
It was the biggest single load of Britons evacuated from Lebanon so far.

About 1,200 British men, women and children were aboard for the 12-hour journey, along with about 600 other nationalities.

Stella Nachef, 32, from Greenford in Middlesex, had been on a family holiday to Lebanon with her husband and children Roy, Raya and Natalie, three, seven and nine.

"It was my first trip to Lebanon. We were going for a beach holiday with the children. We were looking forward to some sun and playing on the beach. But then the bombings started, the whole house was shaking, my little boy couldn't sleep at night. It was quite frightening."

She was very relieved to be back although she didn't know what they were doing next. Her main concern was reuniting her husband Ramsey with his luggage, which had disappeared on another ship.

Rescue dash

Joe Lalond, who lives in Botswana but is originally from Bristol, had dashed to Lebanon to retrieve his eight-month-old son Brian. He said the crew on board HMS Bulwark had been "amazing".

"We were in Italy on holiday. Brian was staying at the in-laws at their place in north Lebanon and then we heard about it all on the news," he said.

"I was very, very concerned for them and Brian but they were in a safe area and didn't seem concerned about themselves. So they were fairly safe but I just wanted to get him out."

Map of Cyprus

He was "pretty tired" after his journey, which involved travelling from Italy to Athens to Cyprus and then to Lebanon where he spent about two hours picking up Brian before getting on the ship.

"We're going back to London now. My wife's in London waiting for us. I'm looking forward to that."

Perhaps, because this came after several other evacuations - an estimated 2,600 Britons have been taken from Lebanon to Cyprus so far - procedures for getting people off the Bulwark seemed to be well-organised, if slow.

Some of the official immigration paperwork was done on board ship and people were being let off Bulwark in batches of about 200 at a time.

Sadness

Denise, 18, from Sydney, appeared dazed from her experience.

"I'm so happy to be here but I'm so tired," she said. "I've not slept for days. I went out for my mum's brother's wedding but then the area started getting bombed so we had to flee to another place and then get evacuated.

"Now I don't know what's next or how I'll get back to Australia. I just want to sleep."

I hope to go back in a month, but who knows?
Nawal Ahmad

But Nawal Ahmad, who lives in Lebanon but was allowed on the ship because she has a British passport, was upset that she had had to leave her four Filipino staff behind at the last moment.

"They are my responsibility, they are like my children," she said. "The Home Office told me I could bring them but when I got to the port they said 'No'. I had to send them back and I'm very sad."

She does not know when she will be able to return, but in the meantime she and her family of eight will stay in a hotel in Cyprus which they have booked for at least a month.

"We will relax and see what happens. I hope to go back in a month, but who knows?" she said.

The UK Foreign Office can be contacted on 020 7008 1500 or embassy in Beirut on +961 1 990400.


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