‘Going home’: After 11 months, first repatriation flight to American Samoa departs

‘We are going home’: After 11 months, first repatriation flight to American Samoa departs

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nearly a year after American Samoa closed its borders to prevent COVID-19 from coming in, the first repatriation flight left Hawaii on Monday morning.

Some 159 people were on the historic flight from Honolulu to Pago Pago.

They were among thousands stranded in Hawaii and on the mainland when their homeland closed their borders to travelers 11 months ago to prevent COVID-19 from getting in.

Before dawn Monday, several buses dropped off the eager travelers ― who had finished two weeks of quarantine at the White Sands Hotel.

“Praise the Lord. Thank you Jesus. We are going home,” said American Samoa resident Brigette Moala.

Music and traditional calls welcomed the American Samoan residents.

“I’m thinking about my mom. She’s on this flight and not just her, but the hundreds, thousands that are waiting to come to go home,” said Eileen Tyrell, president of the Tagata Tutu Faatasi Alliance of American Samoa. “This flight gives them so much hope.”

Kueni Aumoeualogo-Hisatake and her husband carried the ashes of their 33-year-old son, Anthony, who died of cancer waiting go to home.

“Elated, bittersweet also, but just grateful. Thank you Lord for the opportunity that we’ve gotten,” said Aumoeualogo-Hisatake.

Before the flight, with her son’s urn by her side, Aumoeualogo-Hisatake spoke about the first thing she’ll do after finishing a second quarantine in American Samoa.

“Hug my grandchildren that I’ve been separated from and hug my two children who are stuck at home and were not able to see their brother before he passed,” she said.

There is also new life. Some waiting mothers gave birth during the closure.

Those on the flight were of all ages.

Repatriation managers say the operation has been carefully planned to ensure the territory remains COVID-free.

“They’ve been in tears once they knew that they were clear to go home. In our last test, 100% tested negative from the COVID virus so it’s very joyful news,” said Dr. Cecilia Alailima, of the American Samoa Government Department of Health.

Now these travelers are in the homestretch of their long trip home.

It’s not known when the next repatriation flights will be scheduled, but it’s expected to take months for everyone who has been stranded to return home.

Aumoeualogo-Hisatake’s advice to others still waiting is to not give up hope.

Repatriation managers say the operation has been carefully planned to ensure the territory remains COVID-free.

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