More than 8,000 passengers were at the airport early Wednesday, with more expected to arrive in the early afternoon before the start of a curfew that Egyptian state television said had been pushed back to 5 p.m.

The evacuation of nonessential U.S. government personnel and their families began on Wednesday while crowds kept piling up at Cairo’s airport as thousands of other foreigners played the odds in hopes of securing a seat aboard a commercial airline that would lift them far above the chaos in Egypt.

More than 8,000 passengers were at the airport early Wednesday, with more expected to arrive in the early afternoon before the start of a curfew that Egyptian state television said had been pushed back to 5 p.m.

Airport officials said more than 18,000 passengers had been massed in about three departure terminals on Tuesday, over half of them boarding special flights sent in by their governments.

The U.S. Embassy said it expected to evacuate over 1,000 Americans from Egypt over the next two days, including the government personnel and other citizens in the country. The State Department had issued a mandatory evacuation order a day earlier for non-emergency government staff. Other Americans wishing to leave Egypt amid the unrest that has engulfed the country would also be accommodated.

The exodus of the foreigners, and some Egyptians, reflected the unease and general weariness of many over the standoff between President Hosni Mubarak and the tens of thousands of protesters demanding his ouster.

Madeline Murphy Rabb, a Chicago-based curator, said that a Nile cruise to celebrate her 66th birthday was interrupted by the protests, with passengers confined to the ship at Luxor for two days.

“The manager of the tour ship restricted us from leaving the boat because he feared for our safety,” Mr. Rabb said in a telephone interview from London on Tuesday.

The curfew, which until Wednesday ran from 3 p.m. to 8 a.m., had forced many airlines to readjust their schedules to account for the times when passengers would be able to come to the airport. Several temporarily suspended flights.

National carrier EgyptAir had organized just 29 or its 148 scheduled international and domestic flights. The airline has been cancelling as many as 75 percent of its flights because it was unable to field enough crew, in part because of the curfew.

In a reflection of the hit Egypt’s vital tourism sector was experiencing, the airport’s arrival hall was largely empty. The only people moving through were journalists flying in to cover the country’s protests, as well as a group of about 345 Sudanese, Yemenis who came for a visit to Egypt, airport officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

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