The State Department has hired the cruise ship Orient Queen to evacuate U.S. citizens from Beirut starting Tuesday, according to the Pentagon.Gonzalez is the correct spelling for USS Gonzalez (DDG-66).
An American Navy destroyer, the USS Gonzales will escort the ship for security reasons.
The Orient Queen can carry about 750 passengers for the approximate five-hour crossing from Beirut to Cyprus, according to Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
At least 8,000 of the estimated 25,000 American citizens in Lebanon registered with the American embassy prior to the war between Israel and the terrorist group Hezbollah. Several hundred have expressed interest in being evacuated.
UPDATE: USS Gonzalez is named after Medal of Honor winner Marine Sergeant Freddy Gonzalez. SGT Gonzalez's MOH citation here.
UPDATE: Photo of helicoptered evacuees arriving on Cyprus:
U.S. citizens exit a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 helicopter assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24 MEU) in Cypress, following their departure from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. At the request of the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon and at the direction of the Secretary of Defense, the United States Central Command and U.S. Marines are assisting with the authorized departure of U.S. citizens from Lebanon. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Demetrio J. EspinosaUPDATE2: More on the helo evac:
Two Marine Corps CH-53E Sea Stallion helicopters aided in the voluntary departure of 42 American citizens from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, July 17.UPDATE3: Many photos of the Orient Queen here.
The citizens were transported here where processing and accommodations were coordinated with the U.S. Embassy in Cyprus.
Working in cooperation with U.S. Embassies in Lebanon and Cyprus, Commander, Task Force 59, U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Carl Jensen, is leading joint U.S. military coordination efforts from Cyprus.
The Marine helicopters are part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) currently in the middle of a six-month deployment to the European and Central Command theaters of operation.
American forces are in the operating in the area at the request of the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon. The mission of U.S. forces here is to assist American citizens who wish to voluntarily depart Lebanon. In addition to their primary mission, the safety and security of both American citizens and forces is a top priority. (source)
UPDATE4: More on the evacuation here.
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