LARNACA, Cyprus - Ships and aircraft scooped more exhausted people fleeing the fighting in Lebanon to safety in Cyprus overnight (NZ time) in a mass international effort that has so far evacuated more than 25,000 people.
UN emergency relief co-ordinator Jan Egeland said at least US$100 million ($162.83 million) was urgently needed to help avert a humanitarian disaster in Lebanon, and he urged Israel and its Hizbollah foes to guarantee safe passage to the aid convoys.
The European Union dispatched a team to help Cyprus cope with the huge wave of foreign evacuees, which is stretching the small island's resources at the height of its tourist season.
"We expect the number (of evacuees) to triple in the coming days. There are more than 60,000 to 70,000 to be evacuated through Cyprus," Foreign Minister Georgios Lillikas said, inspecting a boat that had brought in more than 1200 people.
Britain gave its citizens until today to gather in Beirut for the last scheduled evacuation by sea. A ship with British evacuees was expected in Cyprus later today (NZ time).
About 5700 people were coming in on seven US ships over the next 24 hours and only 1600 of those would be flown out, officials said. About 2300 were staying at a makeshift camp set up in fairgrounds in the capital Nicosia.
"There are still ships coming," said a US State Department media official, who declined to be named. "It may not be at the same rate as a few days ago, but we are still receiving a lot of passengers."
Chartered ships also were expected to bring 500 Australians, 1100 Canadians and 400 Swiss to Larnaca.
Turkey has also been receiving hundreds of evacuees, mostly Canadian and some Swedish citizens, at its Mediterranean port of Mersin to the north of Cyprus.
Evacuees described scenes of mayhem in Lebanon, where many had been holidaying or visiting family when Israel started bombing 11 days ago.
"I was at my club playing tennis and suddenly heard shelling over my head," Eddy Munzer, 66, a retired lawyer from Florida, said. "The situation is so uncertain, I don't see any bright future in the short term."
Australian-born accountant Joseph Saade, who moved to Beirut 20 years ago, said: "I will not return. This is the end. I am going to Australia, my home."
To help those left behind in Lebanan, the UN's Egeland said it was vital to repair bombed runways at Beirut's Hariri airport and to establish a staging area in Cyprus.
"At the moment, we are not able to get relief into the country in any quantities and more importantly, we're not able to distribute it beyond certain points which we can reach at the moment," he told reporters in Larnaca.
Egeland said he would fly from Cyprus to Beirut aboard a British helicopter later today (NZ time) to assess the situation there and to "urge and beg" international donors to stomp up food, medicine, water and other aid.
As people escaped the violence, aid poured in. The EU pledged to send medicine, shelter material and other supplies. France sent 20 tonnes of water, food and medicines, and was dispatching a water purifying plant.
Officials said the French humanitarian agency Medecins Sans Frontieres planned to send 60 tonnes of emergency aid through Cyprus to Lebanon.