For the families and friends of hundreds of Americans who have been held captive since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein's startling announcement Thursday that he will free all foreigners started a day that was rich with joy, yet tempered by suspicion and worry.
They will believe it, many said, only when they know their loved ones are safely outside Iraqi-controlled territory.
"It's an emotional roller coaster," said Kimberly Albrecht of Santa Ana, who six weeks ago welcomed her father home from captivity in Baghdad and now awaits word on a longtime family friend still held hostage there.
"You want to hope and pray that it's going to come true, but you're waiting to hear that maybe it's not going to happen because of everything we've heard these last four months," she said. "The man (Hussein) isn't known to be very truthful."
"I'm hoping and praying it's true," said Deborah Saloom of San Diego, who was allowed to leave Kuwait with her 17-year-old son while her husband, George, was forced to stay behind. "I won't believe it until I hear my husband's voice and see his face on the newscast. As we all know, we've been disappointed in the past."
Across the nation, many relatives suggested hopefully that Hussein may be looking for a way to avoid war in the face of the United Nations' Jan. 15 deadline to pull out of Kuwait. Some wondered what influence a recent delegation of relatives of Americans to Baghdad to appeal for release of their loved ones may have had on the Iraqi leader's decision.
The hostages--some held in hotels, some holed up in embassies, some used as "human shields" at potential military targets, some still in hiding--were ensnared by Hussein's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent standoff with U.S. and allied forces in the region. Many of the hostages are foreigners who were working in Kuwait and Iraq, some are diplomatic officials, and some are travelers and vacationers caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
At least three Orange County men were among those held captive. Two were freed--Randall Trinh, 49, of Fullerton, and Albrecht's father, 53-year-old Jack Frazier. Gene Lovas, 45, of Westminster, remains there.
At Lovas' home in Westminster Thursday, there was cautious optimism. "There is a lot of hope but also some cautiousness about having too much hope," Lovas' wife, Holly, said in a television interview.
Trinh, who was released from captivity last month, tuned in to television reports throughout the day to hear developments from Iraq.
"We all shared the hard times in Kuwait," Trinh said of the 35 other Santa Fe International employees who worked with him on an oil refinery project in Kuwait. "If they all come back safely before Christmas, it should be a good holiday for us all."
News of Hussein's announcement came before daybreak on the West Coast. For the next several hours, families tried to learn more about the status of husbands, fathers, sons and brothers who had become bargaining chips in the crisis. Hussein already had allowed foreign women and children to leave.
Many hostage families tried desperately to call their relatives in Baghdad, but to no avail, said Joy Ligon, a volunteer who works with a Champaign, Ill., hostage family support group called Coming Home. "They are trying to call the hotels in Baghdad (where many of the hostages are held) but they can't get through."
Ironically, a daily telephone conference call line that hostage families use to exchange information was strangely silent Thursday afternoon, Ligon said. "They've all been glued to the television."
Jan Chandler of La Canada Flintridge, whose brother, Kevin Bazner, was being held at a military installation hundreds of miles north of Baghdad, learned of Hussein's announcement in a 5 a.m. phone call from her mother. "I sat in front of the TV set and just cried," Chandler said.
Like many other relatives, Chandler stayed tuned to news broadcasts and asked reporters who called for interviews for news of Bazner and his wife, Dawn, who was part of the delegation of family members who traveled to Iraq.
"The latest we heard is that Kevin and Dawn are together in Baghdad," Chandler said. "At least he's been allowed to come in to Baghdad. So that's very promising. . . . We would like to hear from Kevin and Dawn, and we're waiting to see (them on) news footage."
Virginia Bazner of Palm Desert has been caring for her two grandchildren, a 6-year-old girl and a 9-month-old boy. When Bazner's daughter heard the news Thursday morning, her grandmother said, "Her first reaction was, 'Does that mean that I'll get my wish for Christmas?' " Her grandmother tried to assure her she would.
Delores Ashby and her mother, Lucille Hughes of Albuquerque, N. M., tempered their comments with caution. Hughes decribed her reaction as "pessimistic optimism."