Stranded in lockdown: Local travelers abroad facing closed roads, airports

Some travelers from Seattle are stranded in South American, saying they're not even allowed to drive to the airports.

When Eve Largent from Edmonds traveled to Ecuador earlier this month, coronavirus was not on any map of major concern in South America. In fact, she was leaving Seattle at a time when concerns of a major outbreak made leaving seem sensible and safe.

“Yesterday, I heard that nobody’s really getting out of here,” she said.

Now, Largent is one of the countless thousands of U.S. foreign travelers hopelessly stranded in lockdown because of coronavirus.

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“There’s so many of us out there with no place to go,” she said.

In Ecuador, the Mayor of the city of Guayaquil ordered officials to park their vehicles on the airport's runways to keep international flights from landing. She explained the effort as protection against potentially infected passengers.

In Quito, where Eve Largent checked into a hotel next to the airport, roads are closed to cars, and groups are banned from walking together outdoors.

"They want you at home, they want you locked up," Largent said. "They don't want people going outside except to buy food.''

Despite the directive from the State Department for travelers to return home immediately, there is also a warning not to expect help from the government.

“Have a travel plan that does not rely on the U.S. Government for assistance,” the travel advisory told Americans in foreign countries.

“Well, they’re right,” Largent said. “The U.S. government has been of no help to us,”

Largent told KIRO-7 she was stranded along with several other travelers from the US, who all paid an extreme price for their only chance to leave by air: a charter flight, offering seats starting at $6,000 each.

"We don't know if it's going to even be here tomorrow," Largent said, adding the flight would land in Houston if it is cleared to leave a closed airport in Quito.

Lori Taylor from Lopez Island has the same issue. She is stuck in Guatemala.

“I was supposed to fly out yesterday. My flight was canceled on Monday when the airports closed,” she said.

Taylor flew to Antigua before that country began shutting down to contain or prevent an outbreak.

"There's just tons and tons of people that are scared, and they're paying hired drivers to drive them to the Mexican border, so they can hopefully walk across the border, and hopefully catch a flight."

Taylor contacted the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, but the staff there left for the U.S. days before.

“Then I got an email from the State Department saying ’Nobody’s here to help you, if you need to get out, do so on your own. We’re not gonna be able to help you,”’ she said.

“We just want to come home,” Taylor added.

The letter from the State Department is below:

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period. U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel.

Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice. Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips. If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.

On March 14, the Department of State authorized the departure of U.S. personnel and family members from any diplomatic or consular post in the world who have determined they are at higher risk of a poor outcome if exposed to COVID-19 or who have requested departure based on a commensurate justification. These departures may limit the ability of U.S. Embassies and consulates to provide services to U.S. citizens.

For the latest information regarding COVID-19, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website.

You are encouraged to visit travel.state.gov to view individual Travel Advisories for the most urgent threats to safety and security. Please also visit the website of the relevant U.S. embassy or consulate to see information on entry restrictions, foreign quarantine policies, and urgent health information provided by local governments.

Travelers are urged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency. The Department uses these Alerts to convey information about terrorist threats, security incidents, planned demonstrations, natural disasters, etc. In an emergency, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate or call the following numbers: 1(888) 407-4747 (toll-free in the United States and Canada) or 1 (202) 501-4444 from other countries or jurisdictions.

If you decide to travel abroad or are already outside the United States:

• Consider returning to your country of residence immediately using whatever commercial means are
available.

• Have a travel plan that does not rely on the U.S. Government for assistance.

• Review and follow the CDC’s guidelines for the prevention of coronavirus.

• Check with your airline, cruise lines, or travel operators regarding any updated information about your
travel plans and/or restrictions.

• Visit travel.state.gov to view individual Travel Advisories for the most urgent threats to safety and security.

• Visit our Embassy web pages on COVID-19 for information on conditions in each country or jurisdiction.

• Visit the Department of Homeland Security’s website on the latest travel restrictions to the United States,

• Visit our pages on keeping workplaces, homes, schools, or commercial establishments safe.