A Moore County family is safely at home, nearly stranded in Honduras after the government closed its borders due to COVID-19.
Tammy Reid Russell left her Whispering Pines home on March 8 for her bi-annual humanitarian mission to Honduras, an impoverished country in Central America. At the time, calls for travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and curtailing of social interactions had not been announced. It would be two days later that Governor Cooper would declare a State of Emergency in North Carolina.
Together with her two daughters, ages 7 and 9, students at Sandhills Classical Christian in Southern Pines, Tammy traveled on a commercial flight from Raleigh to the capital city of Tegucigalpa. Her final destination was a school in the town of Comayagua.
They felt safe traveling to Honduras. Only a handful of coronavirus cases had been reported in the country. None in the area they would be visiting. “The situation at the time was fluid,’ said Russell, “but we felt we would be safe.”
Russell and another couple, Eric and Madison Honrine from Southern Pines, settled in for what they thought would be a one week Christian mission over spring break. Their days would be filled teaching school and sharing fellowship. They would also distribute surplus medical supplies donated to Helping Hands Ministries of West End by local businesses.
Tammy Russell is embraced by students at a school In Honduras where she does missionary work. (contributed photo)
Just before they were to leave, the President of Honduras announced a travel ban and mandatory curfew. All grocery stores, gas stations, banks, and pharmacies would be closed. At the same time, schools in North Carolina would be ordered closed.
Suddenly and without warning, Honduras then closed the borders to all visitors in an effort to halt the spread of the virus. Hoping that the United States government would intervene, Russell contacted Senator Thomas Tillis’ office but was disappointed and frustrated with the lack of assistance provided.
Soon after, the American Embassy announced that diplomats and military personnel, together with their families, could leave on specially arranged transports. Other Americans would need to secure their own way home.
Since commercial airline travel was halted, they were stuck. Their airline reservations to return home were canceled.
That’s when Russell turned to the power of social media, hoping to find a way to get her family and friends home.
Moore County resident, Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Christopher answered the call. Within hours, they would travel the short distance to a joint Honduran-American Air Force base and board a C-130 military transport out of the country, taking the last five seats.
“I’ll be eternally thankful to be home and know that God is always in control,” said Russell. “I am so appreciative and grateful for my Moore County friends and family. Especially my new best friend, Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Christopher. Without him, this would not be possible.”
According to national news outlets, many other Americans are struggling to arrange transportation back home from countries around the world affected by coronavirus.
In a letter from nine senators written to Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said, “Americans in Honduras, Morocco, Peru, and Tunisia, among other countries, have reported to our offices that they are encountering difficulties in obtaining support from U.S. Embassies and Consulates, including to arrange commercial flights home.”
“In some cases, they are reporting that they are unable to establish contact with, or receive even basic information from, U.S. Embassy personnel” the letter would go on to say.
Feature photo: Right to left, Tammy Russell and her two daughters together with Eric and Madison Honrine seated in a C-130 transport plane on their way home from Honduras after nearly being stranded. (contributed photo)
~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.