HK woman braves Israel's bombs to flee Beirut

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2006, 12:00am

A Hong Kong-born woman has told of her family's dramatic escape from war-torn Beirut, describing their road trip to Jordan as 'the most terrifying five hours of our lives'.

The former Loretta Cranbourne, who was raised in Hong Kong and was head girl of the Island School in 1992, is resting at her home near Washington after arriving from the Middle East at the weekend.

Married to ethnic-Lebanese engineer Imad Abousleiman, she and her family endured a hair-raising road trip last Wednesday.

'It was like a miracle that we arrived safely in Amman after five hours of dodging bombs,' she said.

After graduating from Island School, Ms Abousleiman studied in the US, graduating from Georgetown University, then with an MBA from Columbia. She met her husband as a student and they were married in 2000. They have two sons, Lucas, three, and Andrew, seven months.

The family went to Lebanon last month to introduce Andrew to Imad's parents. But their holiday was forgotten when Israel began its bombing campaign in response to Hezbollah attacks. They were booked on a flight to the US on July 13 when Israeli missiles smashed into the runway at Beirut airport.

'We saw the plane being destroyed in front of our eyes,' Ms Abousleiman said. 'We had no warning this was going to happen.'

The couple are US citizens and her husband called the US embassy daily to check on evacuation plans. 'He learned that arrangements were being made to evacuate us by a rented Norwegian aircraft, but the US embassy wanted us to sign a promissory note for the payment, without telling us how much it would be,' she said. 'We could see our savings being sacrificed. They were also taking people only to Cyprus, and we heard this was a madhouse.'

Instead, a friend helped secure a car and a driver and they started their dreaded journey.

'The driver was calling to the villages ahead with his mobile phone to know if it was safe,' Ms Abousleiman said. 'If it was, we went ahead, but several times the bombs dropped just after we had passed.

'When we reached the Bekaa Valley [on the Lebanese-Syrian border] we were told to halt because the valley was being blitzed by Israeli aircraft. When the bombing stopped we decided to risk it and went ahead, finding just enough road still passable for us to get through.'

They finally arrived in Amman, Jordan, late on Wednesday and flew to the US a few days later.

Ms Abousleiman is the eldest daughter of Nida and Ray Cranbourne, who have lived in Hong Kong for nearly 40 years.