BEIJING — Foreigners streamed out of Beijing by air Tuesday as their embassies urged them to leave before the violence gets worse.
Some embassies arranged for special flights out of the capital. Others, including the U.S. Embassy, sent messages to their nationals suggesting strongly that they flee.
"You should leave Beijing," a caller from the U.S. Embassy told one American resident of the capital. "If you must stay, then go to hotels on the east side of the city."
An estimated 2,500 Americans live in Beijing. Students residing at universities were evacuated from campuses Monday.
A source close to the U.S. Embassy said the embassy had alerted the Defense Department in Washington to have military planes ready for possible evacuation of U.S. personnel and equipment. In addition, the source said, two United Airlines 747s are on standby in Tokyo for possible emergency flights from Beijing.
An official of the British Embassy said: "Earlier, we advised our citizens to keep their heads down. Now basically we say 'Go.' "
Two American companies with extensive operations in China complied. McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St. Louis ordered 40 U.S. citizens employed at a plant in Shanghai to move to Hong Kong, said spokesman Jim Reed. McDonnell Douglas has a co-production agreement with the Chinese to produce MD-80 commercial aircraft in Shanghai.
Officials at Chrysler, which has one of the largest business operations in China of any American corporation, said in Detroit that the auto maker also has evacuated its eight American personnel and their four dependents from Beijing. They said the American managers of the firm's Jeep-making joint venture with the Chinese government, located in the southeastern section of Beijing, left the country on a commercial flight Monday morning for Tokyo.
A handwritten message on the door of the British Embassy warned: "Do not go on balconies, look out windows or take photographs of troops. They have warned they will shoot. They mean it."
The British advised travelers and foreign residents to leave not only Beijing but any place where there has been trouble. Violence has been reported in several Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Wuhan and Shenyang. A hotel was reportedly burned down in Chengdu, in Sichuan province.
Canada reduced its embassy staff in Beijing to 15 from 40. West Germany sent dependents of its embassy staff out of the country. Irish diplomats invited their citizens to take up residence on the Irish embassy grounds. Australia also put up residents at its embassy.
Foreign families hastily packed their bags at walled residence compounds in eastern Beijing. Some drove to the airport or hotels in convoy. By nightfall, the extensive high-rise apartment neighborhoods in Jianguomenwai and Qijiayuan were mostly dark, indicating that many apartments were empty.
Foreigners living in the two compounds had grown increasingly nervous in recent days because of the presence of 20 tanks positioned on a nearby highway intersection. There were reports of army infighting west of the capital, and the fear grew Tuesday that a battle might break out right next to the residential area, which is also where many foreign embassies are located.
To reach the airport, those leaving from downtown Beijing had to find their way through a series of barricades set up across two of the main north-south roads through the city. Cars veered up and down curbs, into bicycle lanes and through narrow side streets to circumvent the barricades.
Many cab drivers refused to make the trip.
"Too dangerous," explained one.
"Too much shooting," said another, making a hand signal for a gun.
However, there was no gunfire along the airport route.
Those drivers willing to make the journey asked relatively large sums of money, 100 yuan (about $27) and up.
The airport was pandemonium, even by Beijing standards. In mid-afternoon, at least 2,000 people crowded into the international terminal waiting for flights, getting their names on standby lists and buying or begging tickets. Large groups of Japanese students slept on the floors in front of the All Nippon Airways and Japan Air Lines counters. Some at the airport wept in frustration at their inability to get tickets, and others wept in relief in escaping downtown Beijing.
Many of those at the airport have left hurriedly and with little sleep.
Sleeping on Floor
Chris Davies, a student at Beijing Teachers' University, had spent Monday night sleeping on the floor of the Canadian Embassy after being evacuated from his school. He was leaving China in such haste that some of his clothes and belongings were still back in his room at the school.
"After what I saw, I didn't want to stay," he explained, referring to last weekend's shootings.