FRANKFURT, GERMANY, DEC. 13 -- As the last planeload of American detainees to leave Kuwait and Iraq landed here tonight, U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait W. Nathaniel Howell, limping and looking exhausted, declared that although he and his staff are no longer holding out against the Iraqi occupation, "the flag flies."

Howell and the other four U.S. diplomats who survived in the embassy for 110 days -- without power and with little to eat but canned tuna -- were among 26 Americans on the charter flight evacuating detainees from Iraq and Kuwait.

"We're very happy to be here," Howell said as he stepped out of the arrival lounge with U.S. Ambassador to Germany Vernon Walters. "We're very delighted that all Americans who wanted to leave Kuwait did.

"This morning, I closed the embassy -- we didn't close it, but vacated it. The flag flies. As you might understand, we haven't had electricity or hot water at night for 110 days," Howell added.

U.S. officials insist the embassy technically remains open, although no one is there to operate it. White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater told reporters today that the United States has "notified the Iraqi government that we hold them responsible for the protection of the physical facility."

State Department officials in Washington said the five remaining staff members made sure that all necessary files had been destroyed before leaving the embassy, Washington Post staff writer Al Kamen reported.

Earlier this week, officials in the State Department's Iraq task force had said they did not believe any of the Americans remaining in Kuwait wanted to leave and recommended that the diplomats leave on Tuesday, one source said.

That recommendation was approved at high levels of the department, including the third-ranking official, Undersecretary Robert Kimmitt, the source said. But Secretary of State James A. Baker III reportedly overruled, saying they should wait a bit longer to make absolutely sure that all Americans were out. There were no Americans aboard a charter flight that left Kuwait on Tuesday.

A total of 96 hostages -- including 20 Britons, 16 Canadians, nine Japanese and citizens of several other countries -- were on board what diplomats said would be the final evacuation flight. Only the diplomats and six private U.S. citizens came out on the flight from Kuwait. Another 15 U.S. passport holders boarded the flight during a stopover in Baghdad.

Regarding any remaining U.S. citizens who might still be in hiding in Kuwait and still wish to leave, two daily commercial flights are now running between Kuwait City and Baghdad, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said. She said that "our embassies in Baghdad and Amman {Jordan} stand ready to assist with the travel arrangements" of any U.S. citizen who wishes to depart.

Howell was packing up to leave Kuwait after a three-year stint there when the Iraqis invaded on Aug. 2. His wife had already left the country.

The ambassador, his staff and about a dozen Americans who had taken refuge in the embassy survived a four-month siege after the United States defied Iraqi demands to close the facility. Iraq had declared its annexation of Kuwait and demanded that all diplomats there be withdrawn.

Iraqi soldiers then surrounded the embassy and cut off its power and water. The Americans drank boiled water from the embassy swimming pool, ate canned tuna and rice, and planted a vegetable garden on the embassy grounds.

Howell, 50, pitched in when his staff dug a well and a trench to build a latrine for the besieged compound.

A family of Kuwaitis who were stranded at their summer home in Germany when Iraq invaded their homeland Aug. 2 greeted Howell as he emerged from the baggage area.

Bazza Ghanim, a housewife who said she has heard nothing from her relatives in Kuwait since the Iraqi invasion, offered the ambassador a "Free Kuwait" button. Howell accepted it and showed Ghanim his lapel, where he wore a pin with the U.S. and Kuwaiti flags.

State Department officials tried to prevent the ambassador from answering questions, but as reporters trailed him through the airport to an adjacent hotel, Howell outpaced his fellow diplomats and joked with journalists.

Asked what he wanted to do first when he got home, Howell said, "Is that for attribution?" and laughed. Asked what he intended to eat for his first dinner, he said, "I don't know yet. It's been so long since I had a choice. I'll have to see what there is."

Howell and his staff "performed courageously," Fitzwater said in Washington. "They deserve to be taken out."

Howell, chewing gum and wearing a green sportjacket, was to spend the night at the airport hotel along with the other Americans, continuing on to Washington on a chartered flight Friday.

"Kuwait is a country of fear right now," said Wayne Cox, 40, of Orlando, Fla. Cox, like many of the other Americans on the flight, is married to a Kuwaiti.

The Coxes and their three children left Kuwait on the first flight out Sunday but were detained in Baghdad by Iraqi authorities, who insisted that Cox's wife, Layla, give up her Kuwaiti passport and obtain Iraqi papers, a process that took four days.

"The Kuwaitis are being forced to change their drivers' licenses to Iraqi ones just to be allowed to buy gas," Wayne Cox said.

Like many Americans who had emerged from hiding, Cox urged the Bush administration to attack Iraq quickly to free Kuwait, which he said is "undergoing total destruction."

"The hatred between the two peoples will last, even if the war begins and ends," said Imad Ghawji, a Syrian engineer who left Kuwait today to visit friends in the United States. "There's nothing left of that country. There's no security. If your house is looted and you go to the police, they might come and take more from your house."

The U.S. Embassy charge d'affaires in Baghdad, Joseph Wilson, said Thursday that with one exception all Americans who wanted to leave Iraq and Kuwait had done so, Washington Post staff writer Dana Priest reported from Amman.

Wilson said in a phone interview that the one remaining American had been required by Iraqi authorities to return to his former work venue in the southern Iraqi city of Basra to collect the necessary papers for obtaining an exit visa. The man reportedly returned to Baghdad Thursday and was awaiting a flight out.

"As far as we can tell right now, everyone who wanted to leave and who contacted us has left," Wilson said.

Staff writer John M. Goshko in Washington contributed to this report.