U.S. Marines poured off military ships Thursday to help rescue Americans from Lebanon.
Some 40 Marines helped families, children in strollers, tourists and the elderly onto landing craft to whisk them to a warship off the coast of Beirut.
The evacuees then reached the USS Nashville, which will take them to Cyprus.
The scene was dramatically different from 1984, when Marines left en masse from Lebanon, months after a 1983 barracks bombing in Beirut killed 241 Marines.
Other Western countries also are rushing to evacuate their citizens from Lebanon, which has been hit by nine days of violence between Israel and Hezbollah militants.
Marine officials did not speak at length about the security measures in place, but the Marines were all armed and U.S. Navy combat boats were constantly circling the area
U.S. officials said the Marines are in Beirut only to help Americans and to engage in a humanitarian mission. They will leave as soon as the evacuees are on board.
Six transport helicopters are also carrying those evacuees in the most need -- such as urgent medical cases and children -- the 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut to Cyprus.
The fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas has left hundreds of people dead.
Hezbollah, locked in battle with Israel, is a Lebanon-based group linked to the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Hezbollah is designated a terrorist organization by the United States.
The Marines pulled out of Lebanon in February 1984.
About 1,200 U.S. citizens left Beirut for Cyprus on Wednesday, the State Department and military said.
Some 450 had fled earlier. The State Department estimates about 25,000 Americans are in Lebanon.
Most of the 1,200 evacuees who left Wednesday were aboard the 1,000-capacity Greek cruise ship Orient Queen, the first of several chartered ships and military vessels that will form a sea bridge to Cyprus. It arrived in the Cypriot port of Larnaca early Thursday.
"We expect [the Orient Queen] to be a stalwart over the next couple of days," running between Beirut and Larnaca, said Maura Harty, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, at a news conference Wednesday.
Two more civilian ships are scheduled to arrive Friday in Beirut: the Saudi-owned, Panamanian-flagged Ramah, with a capacity of up to 1,400; and the Vittoria M., an Italian vessel that can carry about 330.
The first charter flight from Cyprus landed at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport early Thursday. Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich said about 200 U.S. evacuees are expected on that flight, and about 800 are to arrive by Saturday.
Harty again urged Americans in Lebanon and those with family there to contact the Embassy or the department to register for evacuation. She said although people who show up on the Beirut docks without being registered will be put on ships, registering ahead will guarantee a berth.
No plans have been made yet for the several hundred Americans in southern Lebanon, where fighting has been fiercest and Israeli troops entered Tuesday.
Harty said the State Department will move them when it's "safe and prudent ... we're always going to err on the side of caution," she said.
A senior defense official told CNN on Wednesday that the military is considering using teams of Marines aboard helicopters to extract Americans who are stuck in remote parts of Lebanon. The official stressed that nothing has been decided.
Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, told CNN that one reason he is moving the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit to Lebanon is to give him the ability to get Americans out of other parts of Lebanon, if necessary.
"The idea is that we have the capability to extract people, no matter where their location is," Walsh said.
Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero, deputy director for regional operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the on-scene commander will have "absolute flexibility to execute his mission in a very dynamic situation."
Missions into remote parts of Lebanon could entail flying over areas held by Hezbollah.