US tourists stranded abroad desperate to secure return - Casper, WY Oil City News
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US tourists stranded abroad desperate to secure return

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By MITCH WEISS and HOLBROOK MOHR Associated Press

After being confined to a hotel room in Peru and watching “heavily armed guards” patrolling the streets, Linda Scruggs was awash with emotions Saturday when she glimpsed out the airplane window at the Florida Everglades below.

Scruggs and her traveling companion, Mike Rustici, were among dozens of American citizens who caught a LATAM Airlines flight to Miami after being trapped for days in the Peruvian capital of Lima. Like thousands of U.S. tourists and Americans living abroad, the couple was caught in limbo as nations closed their borders to try to stop the spread of the deadly new coronavirus. For days, the couple didn’t know how or when they would make it home – especially after the State Department essentially told them they were on their own.

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“I never had this feeling before even after 9/11,” she said after the plane landed. “I was filled with gratitude, relief, concern and sadness that our country isn’t doing more.”

Scruggs and Rustici, both in their 40s and from Nashville, Tennessee, had flown to Peru with plans to hike Machu Picchu’s complex of Inca ruins, but within days after they landed, Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra declared an emergency, ordering the country’s borders closed.

They said they were only given about 24 hours’ notice to leave Peru but couldn’t find a flight. The virus has caused more than 12,000 deaths around the world, but the figure goes up every day as Americans in Morocco, Ecuador and other nations struggle to find a way home.

For most people, the new virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority recover.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that he is working to repatriate Americans. But Scruggs and Rustici said they got little help or information from the State Department, a sentiment expressed by Americans trapped in other countries. The State Department did not respond to messages seeking comment.

“I think we’re still processing it,” Rustici said. “A big mixture of relief and guilt, it’s almost like survivor’s guilt. We know that there are so many people still over there and we’ve been doing so much the last four or five days to get ourselves and everybody else out and we managed to do so because we’re savvy travelers. We had the resources to keep moving and try a lot of things, but in the end, we just got really lucky.”

Scruggs and Rustici were in the hotel room Saturday morning when they received an email from a local tour operator saying there might be seats on a flight from Lima to Miami. They paid $800 each and took a bus to the airport with other Americans trying to catch the same plane.

There were about 200 people waiting outside the airport when they arrived and a security guard took them inside, where they faced what Scruggs described as a “tense and chaotic” scene with long lines. Some Americans were accompanied by babies and children.

“When we arrived at the airport it was a bit of a chaotic scene, we were at a locked gate and it was still dark and there were some people, stranded travelers there sleeping with their luggage outside of the gate with desperate hopes, alongside some local homeless people all over there. It was a hard and little scary scene,” Rustici said.

Shortly before noon, the couple boarded the plane.

Scruggs, a nurse, said some tourists in Peru are running low on life-sustaining medications like insulin and that some foreign college students trapped in the country were running out of money for food.

Desperate to get home, Scruggs and Rustici used social media to connect with hundreds of other tourists who were trapped in the country, trying to draw attention to their plight by reaching out to elected officials and reporters.

“I think everyone has been shocked at the lack of communication from the U.S.,” Scruggs said.

Dora Figueiredo, 37, an American from Newark, New Jersey, was trying Friday to determine whether her flight from Argentina to the U.S. would leave as scheduled on Sunday.

She had traveled to Buenos Aires to marry her now-new Argentine husband who cannot yet move to the U.S. because he doesn’t have U.S. residency, a process she said could take more than a year.

“I’m feeling a bit stressed out about how to get home now that the Argentinian president announced a lockdown as of midnight last night,” she said. “I have been tweeting at my airline, my embassy at travel.gov about how to get back home.”

As of Friday, her flight had not been canceled but she wasn’t sure if that would still be the case Sunday and did not know how she would get to the airport.

“I really need to get home to check on my parents, who are elderly,” she said.

Scruggs also needs to check on her mother, who’s in a nursing home. And she’s bracing herself for what’s ahead. She knows America has changed so much in just the short period since she’s been away. President Trump has declared a national emergency because of COVID-19. Schools have been canceled in many states. Other communities across the country are in lockdown. Still, when she got off the plane, she didn’t sense the same urgency she did in Peru.

“There are more people in Peru wearing masks than here. Hotel workers, taxicab drivers, police, all airport staff. But hardly anybody in Miami had masks. There were no health checks,” she said.


Associated Press photographer Wilfredo Lee in Miami and writers Anita Snow in Phoenix and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.


The Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:


What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.

If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.

Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.

For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email: covid@cnchd.org


  • Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.

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