Hawaii family stranded in Vanuatu amid coronavirus crisis

For Bridget Ueno, her husband, and their two kids from Wahiawa, it was the vacation of a lifetime.

Unplugging and enjoying the remote, beautiful beaches of the South Pacific on the island nation of Vanuatu.

They made some amazing memories as a family, but now their trip is lasting a little too long, and they're starting to get worried.

After arriving on the remote island of Espiritu Santo, they learned flights out of Vanuatu were being cancelled.  In order to make their way to back to Hawaii, they would have to first make to Fiji, and from there, airlines are only going to Singapore.  Another possible route would take them through Australia or New Zealand, but they've both closed their borders to non-residents.

The Uenos in the meantime are stuck at their Airbnb, a vanilla plantation with limited internet.  There are no cases of COVID19 on Vanuatu yet, but they worry it would quickly wipe out the limited resources on the island if that happens.  And they've noticed locals there already being less welcoming.

"At the grocery store they're walking around us, you know we're the threat, we're the ones that have come in as outsiders, they're scared of us getting the virus," Ueno says.

She says she's tried contacting the U.S. State Department, as well as U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard's office.  The nearest U.S. embassy in Papua New Guinea, which also covers Vanuatu, but all they were told is to stay put and use all their resources to try and get back the United States.

But with no way out, they're now concerned it could be months of being stranded, and they're worried about potentially having to live off the land if things get worse.  "My husband grew up in town, he doesn't know how to fish," she says. "Our next house we could go has bananas and lilikoi."

The Uenos says they feel they've been abandoned by the U.S. government, and say almost all foreign tourists have already left Espiritu Santo.  They believe they may be some of the only American tourists left in the country, and hope someone will help them.   "I just want them to know we're out here," Ueno says.


Photo KITV Island News