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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 21, 2006

Big Island teacher 'exhausted' from nightmare in Lebanon

By Brittany Yap
Advertiser Staff Writer

Sarah Ahmadia

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Sarah Ahmadia arrived in Lebanon on July 8 with four suitcases and planned to spend a three-week summer vacation getting to know her father's family and home country for the first time.

Wednesday night, after a week of watching the Israeli military drop bombs and fire missiles at Beirut and other parts of the war-torn country, the Big Island Kamehameha Schools teacher left with one carry-on bag and a better understanding of the angst and despair in the Middle East.

"It was really heartbreaking," Ahmadia said yesterday morning after being evacuated by the U.S. Embassy to Cyprus, where she awaits a plane ride home. "I can't even tell you how close I got to everyone since I got there. People not as fortunate to get out ... I'm really scared for them."

Ahmadia's dream vacation turned into a nightmare when Israeli forces attacked Hezbollah terrorists. The Israelis' initial strikes were targeted at Lebanon's roads and infrastructure, as well as military sites. Lebanese civilians also have been hit, Ahmadia said. Last Friday, Ahmadia's aunt's house in Sofer was nearly demolished by Israeli bombs. Ahmadia and her cousins, aunts and uncles were in the home, some 500 yards from the bombing, and escaped harm by going down to the basement.

When Ahmadia left Wednesday night, she gave her aunt all of the clothes and belongings that she couldn't pack in her carry-on luggage.

"I'm glad I could help her a little," Ahmadia said.

Ahmadia spoke with The Advertiser yesterday while riding a bus with other U.S. citizens to a fairground that's been set up as an evacuation camp. Exhausted, Ahmadia said she probably won't be speaking to media anymore until she returns home. She's been interviewed several times on CNN and MSNBC, communicating what she sees and her situation via cell phone and text messaging.

Instead, for the first time in more than a week, she plans to rest.

"I got, like, four hours of sleep in the last 72 hours," Ahmadia said. "I'm so exhausted."

As much as the 27-year-old couldn't wait to flee the war-ravaged country, she said that saying goodbye was extremely difficult. The trip to Lebanon was the first time she met several of her relatives who live there. The day she left turned out to be the deadliest day since the fighting began July 12, according to Associated Press reports.

The Associated Press said Israeli warplanes dropped 23 tons of explosives Wednesday night on a site in south Beirut that is believed to be an underground bunker where Hezbollah leaders including possibly Sheik Hassan Nasrallah were meeting. Israel said it won't stop its offensive until Hezbollah is pushed at least 20 miles to a river north of the border and its ability to fire deadly rockets into Israel is neutralized.

Though tired and recovering, Ahmadia said yesterday that she hopes to return to Lebanon to visit her family next summer if the fighting stops.

In the meantime, she was finally relaxed after being evacuated via helicopter along with her two aunts and three cousins also visiting the country from the Mainland.

"It's finally hitting me now," Ahmadia said of being safe. "I'm looking at a big sign right now that says 'GREECE.' "

Tents were set up for the evacuees, as well as bathrooms. Food and water also were provided.

"Cyprus looks a lot like northern California," Ahmadia said. "Except that it's an island."

Reach Brittany Yap at byap@honoluluadvertiser.com.