Hundreds of U.S. Evacuees Return from Kuwait With PM-Gulf-Iran-Iraq
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) _ More than 300 weary U.S. evacuees, including a man who hid in an air- conditioning duct for a week and escaped Iraq by posing as a deaf-mute Arab, got a hero’s welcome after a 21-hour flight from Jordan.
Cheering well-wishers met the evacuees Sunday evening with yellow ribbons, yellow carnations, teddy bears and American flags.
″I was lucky enough and smart enough to get away,″ said Jimmy Hawkins, an oil engineer from Dallas who worked in Kuwait and hid in a ceiling duct after the Iraqi invasion. ″Americans can’t go out. No way. If you don’t have Arab friends, you’re stuck.″
The 305 evacuees - more than half of them children - arrived at Charleston Airport aboard a chartered jet from Amman, Jordan.
The Boeing 747, which left Amman early Sunday, was delayed several hours because of an unexpected stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to let off several people for health reasons, Mike Brennan of the State Department said.
One woman was suffering chest pains and three children from another family were feeling ill. All four, plus the children’s mother, got off in Halifax. The sick were taken to a hospital.
British Airways said 163 more Americans arrived Sunday in London from Iraq, part of a British contingent of evacuees. The Americans were scheduled to leave for Baltimore this afternoon after spending the night in a hotel at Gatwick Airport.
Most of the evacuees who arrived here had left Kuwait earlier in the week. Some had hidden from Iraqi soldiers after the Aug. 2 invasion. They told harrowing stories of narrow escapes.
Hawkins said he hid for a week in the ceiling after Iraqi troops occupied his apartment building. He said he was brought food and water by a Jordanian friend.
Realizing they would eventually be caught by the Iraqis, they set out Tuesday in Hawkins’ car but were arrested in Basra, Iraq. They spent two days in jail before bribing their way out from behind bars, Hawkins said.
″We went and caught a ride with an Iraqi Army lieutenant and sergeant to Baghdad,″ Hawkins said in Dallas, after flying in from Charleston. ″They took us on, never had an idea I was an American.
″I was in the back seat the whole way,″ he said. ″I was dressed as an Arab, playing deaf and dumb.″
Hawkins said he crossed into Jordan after walking about six miles through the desert.
Gov. Carroll Campbell, wearing a yellow ribbon, and a crowd of more than 100 well-wishers met the evacuees, who sang ″God Bless America″ as their plane touched down.
Cheers rang out as mothers, their children clutching teddy bear gifts, entered the airport terminal. One small boy in the crowd held up a sign with the TV character Bart Simpson. The sign read, ″Welcome Home Dudes.″
″The American government has just taken care of us like we were ambassadors,″ said Pat Nicholson of Boise, Idaho.
″Every place we’ve gone the American people have been so ...,″ she said as she fought back tears and a bystander put a flag in her hand. ″I’m just so glad to be home.″
Sandra Williams of Warren, Ohio, her voice choked with emotion, said, ″We were invaded, but it’s not over. Most of the husbands and fathers are still there. Most of the women had three, four or five kids and they did a hell of a job.″