(JERUSALEM) — At 7 a.m. local time Sunday, 144 American citizens waiting to evacuate the Gaza Strip boarded buses at a United Nations compound and headed for the border with Israel.
On one of the buses was the Akasha family, made up of a mother, Rania Akasha, and her four kids, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They were in Gaza on vacation visiting relatives when the conflict started.
All four kids were born and raised in Louisiana. Rania Akasha has been there for 20 years. They have a family restaurant, the Akasha Market, known for its burgers, next to Louisiana State University.
The departure from Gaza was an orderly one, and the buses contained empty seats.
Once at the Erez border crossing area, the group started the long walk through a tunnel to the crossing.
Rania Akasha told ABC News her family made a last-minute decision this morning to get out, saying she was very relieved to be leaving but that she felt guilty to leave other family members behind.
That number of Palestinian-Americans leaving is fewer than the 300 who had expressed interest. But that 144 was all they expected for the time being, a U.S. official told ABC News, adding that the Americans were being processed steadily and getting on buses that would take them to Amman, Jordan.
“A little bit of mayhem,” he said.
Once the 144 were through, they would head to the Allenby Bridge border with Jordan and, from there, could go wherever they want.
The Akasha family was heading back to Baton Rouge.
“Oh my God, happy,” Rania said. “Very happy.”
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
Karla Pequenino, CNN
Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
Joshua Berlinger, Marilia Brocchetto and Fernando Ramos, CNN