Hundreds of Americans who were caught up in the closing of Peru's borders earlier this week now have less than 24 hours to leave the country before they will be stuck there indefinitely.
That includes a group of Professional Health Science and paramedic students from the University of South Alabama (USA).
In an interview with Peruvian publication, El Comercio, Peruvian Defense Minister Walter Martos announced that the border will permanently close at 11:59 on Saturday, March 21.
"The president has ordered that as of Sunday, all airports and all borders are closed completely to take a much stricter measure,” said Martos.
“As of Sunday, all airports are closed and immobilization measures at the national level are extreme.”
In a phone interview, Joel Ellzie, the paramedic instructor from the University of South Alabama, said he and his students were stunned by the developments.
“It was sheer panic for every single one of us,” Ellzie said. He added that as he has been doing, he worked to calm the nerves of the students and assure them that somehow they will all make it back to Alabama soon.
Ellzie told WAAY 31 that one of his students who was separated from the group earlier in the week and was staying in Lima, was able to get a flight early Saturday morning to Miami.
Ellzie said Will Rayner will be arriving in Mobile later this evening. Rayner was among many Americans who used #StuckInPeru to try and attract the attention of lawmakers and officials in the United States to help them.
Officials with USA along with Augusta University, Lenoir/Rhyne University and the University of Georgia have been making a coordinated effort to get their students back to their respective states.
An member of Senator Richard Shelby’s staff told WAAY 31 on Saturday that both he and his staff have been working with the Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Peru to ensure the safe return of those from Alabama as soon as possible.
Ellzie said one idea that has been floated was to have them take a bus from Cusco to the capitol city of Lima, which would take about 24 hours. A final determination hasn’t been made.
He added that right now, neither he nor the 15 students still with him have any illness of any kind. He said now he’s just hoping and praying along with the students that someone will come through for them before they end up stuck in Peru indefinitely.
In a statement posted to its website on Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Peru said the following:
"The U.S. Embassy in Lima is coordinating closely with the Peruvian Government on all options for U.S. citizens to depart the country and are arranging charter aircraft. A flight of 264 American citizens departed Lima for Washington, DC on March 20, and the Embassy understands that LATAM flight 2488 departed Lima for Miami today with over 175 U.S. citizens. Please stay attuned to U.S. Embassy messaging as we continue to arrange for more flights over the coming days. These flights will be subject to reimbursement.
"Please e-mail the following information to LIMAACS@state.gov inbox if you are interested in such a flight. In the subject line of your e-mail, please write “Flight Registration: LAST NAME, FIRST NAME.”
"In your email please provide the following:
- Full name
- Passport number
- Citizenship (only for Legal Permanent Residents of the U.S.)
- Date of birth
- Email address
- Phone number
"The U.S. Embassy in Lima encourages U.S. citizens in Peru to adhere to local quarantine measures to prevent the spread of the virus and to continue to check with airlines for upcoming flights departing the country."