IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Thousands of Americans stuck overseas, struggling to get home during coronavirus pandemic

"It's just a mess right now, so we've been doing everything we can do to get this moving," said a Georgia student stuck in Peru.
Image: Linda Scruggs, Mike Rustici
Mike Rustici and Linda Scruggs leave customs after arriving on a flight from Lima, Peru, at Miami International Airport on Saturday, March 21, 2020. The pair's plight illustrates the desperation people stuck abroad experienced as the COVID-19 pandemic spread.Wilfredo Lee / AP

About 13,500 Americans are stranded abroad and have reached out to the State Department for help in returning to the United States since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a senior State Department official said Monday.

A repatriation task force is "working around the clock" to help Americans get home, said the official, who was authorized to speak only on condition of anonymity.

Since the effort began, the State Department has repatriated 5,000 Americans from 17 countries and will bring home "thousands more in the coming days and weeks," the official said.

Despite the efforts, the State Department couldn't guarantee that every American would be reached quickly.

"We're hearing about people who are in very remote locations and very remote parts of the world. It's complicated," the senior State Department official said. "I'm hesitant to give a guarantee we can move every single person. We are moving very large numbers of people, and we will continue this effort."

The government is also in talks with the Department of Homeland Security to use planes belonging to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the campaign. The craft are usually used for deportations to Central America.

"We're looking at 16 or so flights in the next five days, and we've got ... over 1,600 passengers identified for those flights," the senior State Department official said.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Aya Mansour, 22, a student at the University of Georgia, said Monday that she and other schoolmates remain stuck in Cusco, Peru.

"We've been staying here, and in the meantime we have been trying to contact all our reps and our congressmen," she told NBC News. "We haven't had any luck so far."

She added: "It's just a mess right now, so we've been doing everything we can do to get this moving."

The U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, said that it's working diligently to return Americans and that it got 106 more stranded travelers homeward bound Monday, "bringing the total to over 600."

Sisters Tracey Gutheim, 54, and Karen Spieght, 51, were on a "bucket list" backpacking tour of Peru and now find themselves wondering how they'll get home to Southern California.

"We're not allowed out of the hotel. There's army up and down the street," Spieght said Monday from Lima. "There is martial law at nighttime, and it's very, very unsettling. We're both single moms. Our children are not babies, but they're worried sick."

Gutheim, an emergency room nurse, wants to be back in the United States — and with her colleagues at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood and UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica.

"I just feel bad I'm not there helping out, because they're so short-staffed," she said.

Crystal Alexander, who is from Shelley, Idaho, struggled to get out of Roatán, Honduras. She'd been booked to fly home Saturday before the flight was canceled.

"For the people of Honduras, we don't need to be there taking up their resources," Alexander said. "The government should just be coming and getting their own people out of here or compelling the airlines."

Download the NBC News app for full coverage and alerts about the coronavirus outbreak

Olivia Kamra, 47, a resident of Hawaii, got stuck over the weekend in Arequipa, Peru, and she's not alone in wanting to come home.

"It was very scary in Peru, because hundreds of people wanted to go back to the U.S. or different countries, so airports were full inside, and outside there were a lot of police trying to coordinate people," said Kamra, who is with her sons, 10 and 11.

Kamra, who was still stranded Monday and staying with her father, who lives in Peru, said severe restrictions are in place throughout the country,

"Everything is closed down. Only hospitals are open. Some pharmacies and places to buy groceries, but you have to have a special permission to go out," she said.

"There is a curfew. So if anyone is out for any reason, even to take out the garbage, they will be in jail."