Amid a massive unrest in Egypt due to protests against President Hosni Mubarak, hundreds of Indian passengers were stranded at Cairo's airport today as flights were cancelled or delayed, leaving them unable to leave because of a government-imposed curfew in the capital.
Egypt was in the grip of increasing lawlessness today as gangs of armed men helped free thousands of prisoners and looters rampaged malls, banks and jewellery stores, even as many armymen doffed uniforms to join the uprising against Mubarak's 30-year rule that has claimed at least 150 lives in six days.
In the face of mayhem and cancelled flights, hundreds of Indian tourists and businessmen struck at the Cairo airport were still waiting to be rescued by the Indian Government.
Many of the passengers remained stranded at the airport, unable to leave because of the curfew as well as fears of the widespread looting reported across the capital.
"It is absolutely chaotic at the moment and no one knows what is going on, as there are thousands of people outside the terminal and there is no arrangement of food," said Indian national Vineet Ahuja, who is stranded with his family at the Cairo airport.
"And we cannot even blame anyone," he added.
Ahuja said he chose not to step out of the airport because of stories narrated by those who dared to do so.
"A couple of Indians who stepped out of the airport had horrifying stories to narrate, with tanks out on streets, buildings on fire and army every where, so we are better in here," Ahuja told an Indian news channel.
"It looks terrible at the moment and we do not know what to do" he said.
A special Air India aircraft is flying over 300 Indians to Mumbai, Indian Ambassador R Swaminathan said. They will reach Mumbai tomorrow morning, he said.
The Indian mission is making arrangements for those wishing to return home.
"There are lot of rumours that there is a chartered flight that is going to take off at nine in the night today. We were told to come to terminal 1 to get that flight, but its looking worse now than where we were earlier," Ahuja said.
When asked about the help they were getting from authorities, Ahuja said: "We have no balance left in our mobile phones and in this situation how can we contact someone".
"We are told that there is someone called Harish who will be contacting us but we have no idea who he is," he added.
Meanwhile, Egypt's national carrier was forced to cancel 15 scheduled flights because it was unable to secure the necessary crew and service personnel, reports said.
Several airlines, including Germany's Lufthansa and Air Berlin, US carrier Delta Air Lines and Poland's LOT canceled flights and some were weighing how long to extend those cancellations.
An embattled Mubarak, 82, visited the military headquarters and held hectic parleys with top commanders, a day after he showed first signs of handing over power by naming intelligence chief and his close confidant Omar Suleiman as Vice President.
A special Air India aircraft has taken off for Cairo from Dubai to evacuate Indians stranded in the country while another is on standby in the Saudi city of Jeddah, waiting to be pressed into service, a senior official in Dubai said today.
Abhay Pathak, the Air India regional manager, Gulf, West Asia and Africa, told PTI that the 747 Boeing aircraft, which has a capacity of 423 passengers, was on its way to Cairo from Mumbai and is scheduled to land at 2005 hours local time.
"We have already provisioned all passengers at the Cairo airport and I am told 300-odd family members of the Indian embassy are ready to board the flight. Another 300 Tata Group workers and their family members are waiting to be evacuated," he said.
Pathak said he is also seeking permission to operate another flight which is scheduled to arrive at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
"The aircraft, which has a capacity to seat 240 seats, is scheduled to depart at 11 a.m. and Indians still stranded have been asked to be at the airport (Cairo) by 10 a.m," he told PTI.
According to Pathak, at the moment this is the requirement that they have been informed about and that they are prepared to meet similar requests in the future.The arrangement for the special flight was made at the request of the Indian community in Egypt in view of the prevailing situation there.