Thousands of Lebanese Flee Their Homes by Land, Sea and Air

Clutching what few belongings they could salvage and carry with them, thousands of Lebanese have fled their homes. Towns and villages, especially in southern Lebanon, are now deserted, turned into ghost towns, after the people who lived there sought refuge elsewhere from the two-week-old war.

Families, children and pregnant women have fled the relentless bombardment, scrambling to get out of harm's way. Others have left because their homes have been reduced to rubble. Many don't know if they will return.

Homeless for Now

Ayad Al Munzer, the Red Cross press officer in Lebanon, said that approximately 15,000 people have left Lebanon by air, sea and road. He also said this conflict has displaced approximately 750,000 people, a staggering figure for a country with a total population of 4 million.

Those who remain in the capital seek refuge in schools, underground parking lots and deserted buildings. Many of them live in squalor, which poses a severe health risk. They may have escaped the fighting, but they now live in difficult conditions with little food, water and medicine.

With temperatures soaring in Lebanon, people are heading to parks just to get relief from the heat. More air assaults are expected, and Al Munzer said this will likely lead to more deaths.

Touring the devastation and destruction in Lebanon, the United Nations emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland said this was "the hour of greatest need for the Lebanese people." He called it "a situation that is glaringly in need of our assistance."

The U.N. has asked for $150 million in aid, which countries have slowly come forward to pledge.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, following her visit to Beirut, announced that the United States would provide $30 million in humanitarian aid.

Getting Out

A lull in the aerial assault over Beirut on Sunday and Monday gave foreign nationals a chance to leave, but new Israeli airstrikes pounded the city again today.

Thousands of Lebanese civilians have also crossed the border into Syria, where the government responded to the crisis by relaxing border controls. Convoys are draped in white flags in the hopes of ensuring safe passage out of the war zone.

The Syrian government has set up shelters and camps for these people. Food and water is available, but no one knows for how long. Syrian families are looking after some of the refugees. Others are living in schools, old folks' homes and on university campuses -- anywhere they can find refuge.

Syria has become a safe haven for the displaced, and while they may be out of harm's way, they're not home.

The Lebanese population isn't the only one suffering.

Speaking with Rice at a news conference today, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert described the hardship people in the north of his country face.

Fifteen percent of the population is living in bomb shelters. Israeli citizens, young and old, are forced into small, packed shelters without air conditioning in the sweltering heat.

Sirens sound continually in the northern cities, disrupting people's lives. Olmert said life in northern Israel has "almost stopped completely.''

Life has almost stopped for both populations, and the humanitarian crisis deepens.