Minnesotans stuck in far-flung places across the globe are growing increasingly frantic as they try to return home from countries that have closed their borders in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Many of them appear to be trapped in Peru and Morocco, but reports of stranded travelers have surfaced from China, Latvia, Guatemala, Honduras and Ecuador, according to U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn.
Some travelers converged on foreign airports before the shutdowns in the vain hope of securing airline tickets to the United States. Others have gathered outside of U.S. embassies and consulate offices in attempts to glean information about their immediate options.
Caught up in a rapidly spreading global pandemic, where commercial airline service is chaotic at best, they are calling for the federal government to deploy special flights to ferry them home.
Hundreds of Americans are reportedly stranded throughout Peru, where President Martín Vizcarra on Sunday issued a 15-day nationwide state of emergency and closed the country’s borders.
“We basically had 24 hours to try and get out of the country,” said Jayson Wold of St. Louis Park, who was at a hotel in Peru’s Sacred Valley with his wife and 12-year-old daughter when he got word of the impending shutdown.
They took a tourist bus to Cusco in the Peruvian Andes, then a flight to Lima, but arrived in the country’s capital minutes before a midnight curfew — with too little time to leave the country.
Traveling to a hotel along eerily empty thoroughfares, they were stopped by armed police. Now, safe in a hotel, Wold is uncertain when they will return to the States, given the 15-day quarantine.
“It’s a weird feeling when you can’t get home,” he said.
In a March 17 letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Smith asked what is being done to facilitate the return of U.S. citizens with no access to commercial flights in countries with travel restrictions.
Smith pointed out that England, France and other nations have evacuated their citizens from countries with restricted travel. Smith acknowledged the “significant legal, personnel and logistical challenges involved in extricating U.S. citizens during this time of global crisis,” but urged the State Department to “take swift and decisive action ” to ensure that all U.S. citizens can return immediately.
Some of the stranded have taken to social media to plead their cases. A hashtag #stuck inperu has circulated on Twitter, and several Facebook groups have been created.
Jonathan Du, a University of Minnesota graduate, said he created a WhatsApp messaging group for his brethren called Stuck in Peru, “and it quickly maxed out with 250 people.” Du has tried contacting the media, elected officials, the U.S. State Department and embassy about his plight — with mixed and often disappointing results.
Du and his friend Dan West of Roseville traveled to Peru on March 14 with dreams of ascending Machu Picchu, the storied 15th-century Inca archaeological site in the southern part of the country. They are now stranded in an Airbnb apartment in Cusco trying to find a flight home.
Donn Driver of Edina is part of a 24-person tour of Peru and the Amazon that began on March 9 and was supposed to return March 23. After the tour was canceled on Sunday, group members found themselves quarantined in a hotel in Lima’s Miraflores District.
In a plea for help, tour members appeared in a cellphone video on the internet solemnly stating their names and hometowns while holding their U.S. passports. “We are all still healthy and not exhibiting any symptoms of the virus,” Driver wrote in an e-mail.
Joy McBrien of St. Paul is in an especially precarious situation in Chimbote, Peru, after her passport, credit cards and money were stolen March 13. She can’t get to the embassy in Lima seven hours away to deal with her stolen passport because the roads and embassy are closed.
McBrien, who runs a social enterprise called Fair Anita that creates fair-trade jobs, has been in Peru since late February and was set to return home Sunday. For now, she’s waiting it out with help from “a community of women” in Peru and in the U.S., who sent a care package with some cash.
For stateside relatives, trying to arrange travel for kids stranded abroad can be an ordeal. The Moroccan government on Sunday abruptly suspended international travel and ordered all hotels and restaurants to close, according to media reports.
Jennifer Schmaedeke of Roseville said her 21-year-old daughter, Corrine, is stranded in Rabat, Morocco.
“The government stopped all flights,” Schmaedeke said.
She keeps booking new flights for her daughter, a journalism exchange student who attends Occidental College in Los Angeles. But she said at least three flights have been canceled so far.
Corrine has been in Morocco since January and was having “a rich and engaging experience,” her mother said, noting that her Moroccan hosts have been caring.
But now Schmaedeke is getting texts from her daughter pleading to come home.