LOS ANGELES - Hundreds of people, including Los Angeles residents, are stranded in Peru in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the U.S. Embassy, approximately 2,800 Americans have safely departed Peru with two additional flights leaving Monday. However, the Peruvian government is stopping non-citizen flights on April 1 to stop the spread of coronavirus.
An L.A.-based organization, Warrior Angels Rescue, is working with people stuck in Peru to get them back on American soil in two days. The organization previously helped people struggling following Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
"We're coordinating with the State Department and with the U.S. Embassy so that we can get not just the healthcare workers back but people who are medically vulnerable and people who have been separated from their young kids for weeks," said Valerie Edmondson Bolaños.
It's not an easy task, and healthcare workers like Melisa de Jesus are anxious to get back to work in the medical field in Los Angeles.
"My friend and I who are nurses, we just have the anxiety that we're not with our other colleagues at the front line and at the same time, we have the anxiety of feeling like we're trapped with no control like a prison situation. It's a very frustrating position to be in where you feel helpless here. You can't get out but you're also not helping your colleagues [in Los Angeles] who desperately need you," said de Jesus.
De Jesus is a nurse at UCLA. She went to Peru on March 7 to do medical mission work. She decided to stay after the mission work was complete to tour the area, and asked her friend, who is also a nurse, to fly to Peru to tour the area with her. She has been in communication with the U.S. Embassy to get back to Los Angeles.
"I did receive a call from the U.S. Embassy, and they are working on it. They are aware. We were given reassurance, not set plans, but there's reassurance," de Jesus said.
She said she is working with the embassy on the best practices to transport people back to the U.S. safely.
"Even though I'm not back to being a nurse in the U.S. yet, I've been trying to help out in that capacity in Peru," she said.
Edmondson Bolaños is using her organization's resources to get de Jesus and others back immediately.
"When I heard from Melissa that there were American citizens stranded in Peru, I said I had the operations and logistics already, and the network of volunteers to help," she said.
She believes it is of the utmost importance to get the residents back to Los Angeles and other areas.
"We want all hands on deck. It's really frustrating and disconcerting to know that there are so many healthcare workers who are in Peru doing volunteer medical missions and are now stranded with no way out and they're so desperately needed here in Los Angeles," Edmondson Bolaños said.
There are Americans stuck in remote areas of Peru who would have to endure long bus rides to a major airport to leave.
"There are hundreds of Americans still stuck in Peru. You can't even get a bus unless you have special permission and that special permission must be obtained through the U.S. Embassy, which is overwhelmed right now. A lot of Americans feel that being left behind could be a death sentence for them and they're not wrong," said Edmondson Bolaños.
Dustin Patel, a South Bay Area resident, said he is in "the jungle" in Peru and doesn't have a plan yet to get out of Peru. He visited a meditation center in Peru a couple of weeks back and has been unable to leave since.
"Please don't forget about us. It is really scary out here and it's quite concerning. I don't think this country's [Peru] health care system can support us or support the mass influx of people now here," Patel said.
Edmondson Bolaños is trying to get people on private flights booked through her organization or on the last flights the Embassy will be offering within the next couple of days. Warrior Angels Rescue is asking for donations to help cover the costs of the flights.
The flights from the U.S. Embassy are not free. People will not be asked to pay upfront but they will receive a promissory note to pay at a later date.
On March 26, the Peruvian government approved flights for people to return to their countries through April 1. Priority has been given to minors traveling without a parent or legal guardian, adults in need of medical assistance, and people with underlying health conditions, according to the U.S. Embassy's website.
GO FUND ME FOR WARRIOR ANGELS RESCUE: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-americans-stuckinperu