Northern Ireland

Armagh man recounts escape from Libyan turmoil

Armagh man Jarlath Hagan, has just arrived home after escaping from Benghazi where he worked on a construction site.

He was one of those rescued by the British warship HMS Cumberland.

Three RAF Hercules aircraft rescued 150 people, including 20 Britons, from the Libyan desert on Sunday.

The Republic of Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs said it was in contact with a small number of Irish people still in Libya and with their families at home.

Three Irish citizens left Tripoli Airport and were brought to Malta, also on Sunday.

About 100,000 people have fled anti-government unrest in Libya over the past week, according to UN estimates.

Mr Hagan said his Libyan friends had taken "extremely good care" of him and his colleagues caught up in the turmoil.

"When the demonstrations ended in Benghazi, the Libyan people themselves were incredible, they came up to the site, they protected us on the site," he said.

"They brought food and water to the 10,000 Chinese who were working on the construction site. I couldn't say enough about them, they were absolutely marvellous."

Mr Hagan said a lot of the trouble was caused by around 2,000 prisoners who had been let out of jail.

"They had run riot through the streets of Benghazi and they came to our construction site looking for money, looking for valuables, trying to plunder the site.

"They came onto the site with guns and knives. There were about 100 cars stolen, some of the machinery from the site was stolen, in excess of 1,000 to 1,500 computers were taken and then a lot of personal belongings. They were after anything valuable that they could get their hands on."

'Very lucky'

The Armagh man said that, while travelling to a safe house in Benghazi, he had witnessed a lot of robbery and violence.

"I had the back window of the car put in around me. It was very plain to see there was certainly violence, it was all over Benghazi."

He said the most difficult thing to deal with was that while the media were reporting what was happening in Benghazi, there was no way he could contact his family to let them know he was safe.

"When I did eventually make contact with home, the relief my wife and my daughter voiced down the phone was incredible."

Mr Hagan said he was "very lucky" to have escaped the country.

"I organised for the Chinese workers to move from our site down to the port at Benghazi to board liners heading for Greece.

"I had been trying my phone 50, 60, 100 times a day and one call got through to my daughter in Armagh. She told me that there was a warship coming in to the port."

After rushing outside he found that there was a mustering for the expats from Britain.

"With literally five minutes to spare I got registered, got on the bus and I headed down to the port myself. The ship was there, it was marvellous to see it and we were logged on and booked onto the ship and set sale for Malta."

As Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi refuses international calls for him to step down, a humanitarian crisis is developing on Libya's border with Tunisia - with aid workers saying it is being overrun with migrants fleeing the turmoil in Libya.

About 30,000 refugees - many of them Egyptians - are stranded and need food and shelter, with many forced to sleep in the open despite the cold.

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