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Tourists navigate chaos with concern

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Waiting game at Cairo airport
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tourists are waiting at a hotel near the Cairo airport for flights out
  • Gunshots can be heard in the streets
  • Another group traveling with "Grannies on Safari" is stuck in Luxor

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- Groups of U.S. tourists were stuck Saturday trying to find their way out of Egypt amid the chaos and violent protests that have seized the country.

American traveler Diane Kelley of Chicago described being "stranded" near the Cairo airport with her husband, Gaynor, and 14 other tourists, all waiting for departing flights.

"We've had so far two flights canceled and we're currently just waiting to see if we can get out of Cairo to any other place in the world, but it's very chaotic here," Kelley told CNN by phone, adding they are afraid for their safety if they go outside.

The father of one of their Egyptian guides was shot as the group, traveling with U.S. tour company Abercrombie & Kent, made their way to the airport, Kelley said. They don't know the man's condition, she said.

Gunshots could be heard in the streets, she said.

"I don't think anybody really feels 100 percent safe, but I think that we're much safer than the people who are in downtown Cairo right now," she said.

Kelley and others traveling with Abercrombie & Kent were staying at the Fairmont Heliopolis hotel close to the airport, Abercrombie spokeswoman Pamela Lassers told CNN. The company moved its travelers there from downtown Cairo so they could be ready for the first available flights out of the country, she said.

Lassers couldn't give an exact number of people traveling with the company in Egypt, but she said 14 staff members were looking after the tourists and trying to book their air travel.

Farther south in Luxor, the ancient Egyptian city on the banks of the Nile, another American tour group traveling with the hosts of the PBS show "Grannies on Safari" was waiting for their chance to leave Egypt.

Show host Regina Fraser and 13 others had intended to spend a few days touring museums and attractions sandwiched around a four-day Nile River cruise. Instead, since arriving Wednesday, they've found themselves navigating the chaos while trying to salvage something of their journey.

"There is no place you can feel 100 percent safe," Fraser said.

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Fraser's tour group had been scheduled to visit one of Cairo's main museums Friday, but it was closed because of concerns about protests, she said. Instead, someone suggested they visit Alexandria -- so they drove two hours only to be told to turn around and head immediately back to Cairo.

Arriving back in the capital, they knew things were getting serious because thousands of people were in the streets, Fraser told CNN.

The group's tour bus driver had trouble finding a route to the central Cairo hotel where they were staying. They finally found a route, but were stopped at a gate.

"We looked up and there were just hundreds of people running towards us. We could see tear gas had been dispersed. We were really concerned," she said.

They were allowed to enter before the crowd arrived, but they had to get off the bus and walk the rest of the way to their hotel, Fraser said.

The situation soon deteriorated, Fraser said. She said members of the tour group could hear gunfire popping and people yelling outside the hotel. One of the tourists, a freelance photographer, went outside to take pictures and saw bloodied people and at least one body, she said.

The hotel shut down elevators and asked people to stay in their rooms, but from balconies the tourists could see the thousands of people massing in the streets, she said.

By morning, when another bus came to pick them up for a flight to Luxor, where they were to board a ship for their cruise, the situation had turned eerily calm, Fraser said.

"We saw tank after tank after tank after tank, all lined up," she said. "Then I think even our experienced travelers knew this was something more than your usual protests."

Fraser said tension was also beginning to build in Luxor, where she saw some streets being blocked off and a tank.

The tour group boarded their ship on Saturday, but are trying to contact the American consulate on Sunday for advice. The mood on board is quiet and somber, she said. And the group is looking to cut their trip short by at least two days.

"I feel safer on this boat at this moment than I did this morning in Cairo," Fraser said. "But when we get back to Cairo, we just want to get out."

The U.S. State Department has issued a travel alert urging tourists to avoid Egypt because of dangerous conditions. Those already stranded in the country shouldn't leave hotels until the situation stabilizes, the alert stated.

It said the U.S. Embassy may be blocked off for security during demonstrations and cautioned citizens against going to the embassy during the turmoil.

"Right now, we can only tell Americans to stay in place," a State Department representative said Friday.

The current travel alert expires on February 28.