Egypt in Crisis: Unrest Sparks Air Travel Exodus

Crowds of people overwhelmed Egyptian airline officials at Cairo's international airport Jan. 31, 2011.
Crowds of people overwhelmed Egyptian airline officials at Cairo's international airport Jan. 31, 2011.

CAIRO - An international exodus from Egypt is under way. Thousands of U.S. citizens are trying to fly out Monday as Egypt's 82-year-old president is fighting for his political life.

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It's a chaotic scene at Cairo's international airport, jammed with foreigners trying to get out of the country.

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For a seventh straight day, demonstrators filled the streets of Cairo demanding that Hosni Mubarak give up the power he's held for 30 years.

U.S. Marines have two ships standing by in the Red Sea in case they're needed to help evacuate Americans.

On Monday night, the capital looked deserted from the vantage point of a commercial airliner, CBS News Chief Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan reports. Cairo is a city that literally never stops, and those streets are normally packed with people and cars and bustling with activity. But because of the curfew they looked virtually empty.

It was a dramatically different scene earlier in the day as thousands of people jammed the road leading to the airport, desperate to leave the country.

The State Department said 1,200 Americans made it out on charter flights arranged by the U.S. embassy, and another 1,400 are expected to leave Tuesday. One U.S. official told CBS News Monday night there was "panic and fear" among those who came to the U.S. government for help.

"We felt safe but very on edge," one American tourist said.

Crowds of people overwhelmed airline officials at Cairo's international airport.

"Can't get anybody to help us," another traveler said.

The frustration of some passengers, many of whom who've been stuck for days, is clearly visible. On Monday night, people were still camped in the airport, trapped by the crisis.

By the end of the day Tuesday, some 2,500 Americans should have been evacuated, and the U.S. embassy says they're expecting more and more requests, but it's still only a tiny fraction of the more than 75,000 Americans living in Egypt who are registered with the U.S. embassy. And that's just officially registered.

Americans are being told to come to Cairo's international airport with their passports and basically to get in line. They really have no idea where they're going. They can't plan in advance or make arrangements. There are a number of different destinations where there could be sent from Athens to Istanbul to Cyprus.

People who are living in Cairo might have to get out with their whole family and have no idea when they're going to be able to return home.

  • Lara Logan
    Lara Logan

    Lara Logan's bold, award-winning reporting from war zones has earned her a prominent spot among the world's best foreign correspondents. Logan began contributing to 60 Minutes in 2005.