American Samoa closed its borders in March. Stranded residents are finally going home.
HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The first repatriation flight with American Samoans stranded in Hawaii and on the mainland since the beginning of the pandemic leaves at the end of the month.
But before that, up to 1,000 American Samoans will quarantine in Waikiki.
American Samoan resident Brigitte Moala is among those given the green light allowed to return. She’s been away from her home, husband and sons since December 2019.
The trip started for medical reasons since Moala’s father, Noaese Taeatafa, had heart surgery. The government closed the borders to American Samoa in March to keep the territory COVID-free.
This week, Moala got the call that she and her father will be on the first repatriation flight on Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu to Pago Pago on Jan. 29.
“Oh my gosh. When she said that we were going to be on the first flight, the repatriation flight home my heart just dropped because finally, finally it’s going to happen,” said Moala.
Government officials decide who gets to be on the flights based on their work, health conditions and first come, first served. Some 160 people will be on that first flight.
“I’m going to kiss the ground. I’m going to bow down and kiss the ground and give praise and glory to God for allowing this to happen,” said Moala.
It’ll take five to six repatriation flights ― scheduled through May ― to get everyone home.
Government officials say up to 1,000 American Samoan residents already in Hawaii or coming here from the mainland will undergo COVID-19 testing before departure.
They’ll then quarantine for 10 days at the White Sands Hotel in Waikiki.
“It is a great feeling for the people, putting this whole thing together, the planning the coordination and everything it’s just a big operation,” said Tuiafono Vaiuli Sua, Jr., director of American Samoan Government Office in Honolulu.
Once back in American Samoan, they’ll quarantine again in a hotel for 14 days.
“We don’t care what it takes,” said Moala. “We’re fine with it as long as we get to be home on our own soil,” she added.
The American Samoan government office in Hawaii is asking for patience as it calls people for flights.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s very emotional. It’s like wow we finally have the OK to go back home,” said Sua.
The second repatriation flight is scheduled for Feb. 14.
The Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center is looking for donations of masks, hand sanitizer and diapers for people during their quarantine in Waikiki.
To donate, contact Elisapeta Alaimaleata at email@example.com.
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