Americans in coronavirus epicenter say they feel abandoned by U.S.

“Making the simplest effort or establishing some presence would go a long way in alleviating our concerns,” one American told NBC News.

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By Yuliya Talmazan

Benjamin Wilson, an American, who is hunkered down with his wife and their 7-year-old daughter in the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, is hopping mad at his government.

“The American side has just been absent,” Wilson, 38, said via Skype from his home which he shares with his wife, Li Qin, who is Chinese, and daughter, Jasmine.

While a plane carrying nearly 200 Americans departed from Wuhan, where the deadly epidemic is thought to have originated, left for the United States on Wednesday, many like Wilson say they feel abandoned and angry at what they called an inadequate U.S. response.

A native of Alexandria, Louisiana, he has lived in Wuhan for more than 16 years. Wilson told NBC News he has reached out to U.S. officials in both Wuhan and the capital, Beijing, since the Chinese government locked down the city Jan. 23 to stop the virus.

He said he finally received a phone call from the U.S. Embassy officials Friday night local time, six days after he initially made contact.

“Making the simplest effort or establishing some presence would go a long way in alleviating our concerns,” Wilson, who teaches English, added. “Their silence creates animosity, discontent and fear.”

Benjamin Wilson lives in Wuhan, China, with his wife, Li Qin, and daughter, Jasmine.Ben Wilson

He said he was hoping he could get his daughter on the evacuation flight after his family in the U.S. offered to pick her up in San Francisco. But he still has no answers about her eligibility.

Most of the estimated 1,000 or so Americans in the city of some 11 million were not given a seat on the one plane sent by the U.S. government to evacuate diplomatic staff and some private citizens. Others did not want to leave their partners, children or pets behind.

Now, the Americans in Wuhan are having to rely on online chats to exchange information about the outbreak and possible evacuations amid what Wilson described as a complete lack of help, leadership or communication from U.S. officials.

The Department of State announced Thursday that additional evacuation planes “with capacity for private U.S. citizens” will be sent to Wuhan early next week.

The number of people requesting evacuation from Wuhan has grown recently.

As of Friday, nearly 1,000 people had requested U.S. government assistance to leave, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Washington is still reviewing the requests but, so far, there are close to 800 potential evacuees, 675 of whom are American citizens, the official said, adding that a State Department task force was working to help evacuate the remaining American citizens in Wuhan.

"We remain committed to doing everything we can to protect the health and welfare of U.S. citizens overseas, including those remaining in Wuhan," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement Wednesday.

But Wilson said most people in the expat community still have not received any details about the flights.

“Shifting the burden of information-seeking and options in a crisis to those in the crisis, while the State Department has the tools to reach out and organize its affected citizens is gross negligence of their duties and moral responsibilities as fellow Americans,” he said.

“Someone needs to be held responsible and answer for these failures and inaction.”

Winifred Conrad, 27, originally from Lubbock, Texas, was lucky to be offered a seat on the first evacuation flight, but decided to give it up when she was told she wouldn’t be allowed to take her cat, Lulu.

Also an English teacher, Conrad has lived in Wuhan for five years. She said she was worried she would be gone for a long time if she got on the plane and was then placed in quarantine. Lulu would simply not make it, she worries.

“I am not abandoning my cat,” she added. “Quite a few people told me that’s ridiculous and absurd, but there is a number of other Americans here who are making the same decision as me.”

Doug Perez also chose to remain in Wuhan because he wouldn't abandon his Chinese girlfriend and one-year-old Labrador, Chubby.

Perez, originally from San Francisco, said he reached out to the U.S. Embassy asking if his girlfriend and the dog could join him on the evacuation flight, but never heard back.

"I have no intention of going because my girlfriend and my dog are here, and I love them with all my heart,” Perez, who also works as a teacher, said. “Quite frankly, I couldn't live with myself if I left them at ground zero of the global pandemic while I escape."

Officials could and should do more, Perez, 28, said.

"We could use more help," he said, adding that those who either chose to stay or still hope to be evacuated are slowly running out of basic supplies and face masks.

He begged President Donald Trump's administration to do what it could to help Americans still stranded in China.

“[Americans] are very frustrated. They do feel let down,” Perez added.

Susan Archer, Ed Flanagan and Abigail Williams contributed.