Columbia woman stranded in Peru after COVID-19 concerns closed border

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COLUMBIA - A Columbia woman is stranded in Peru after the country closed its borders last week as COVID-19 spread throughout South America.

Zoe Parham had planned to live and work at an avocado farm for three weeks before the virus took its toll.

She heard Peru was moving towards a mandatory quarantine and decided to try to leave before it was too late, but the country moved fast.

The 22-year-old Hickman High School and MU grad had reached Cajamarca before realizing Peru would lock-down in 11 hours. She still had a 17-hour bus ride scheduled to get to the capital city, Lima.

Police met her at the bus station and wouldn't let her get on. She missed the last commercial flight available to the states: a $3,000 one-way ticket.

"We were told we couldn’t even sit in the bus waiting area to figure out a place to stay for the next 15 days. We were told we needed to go on the street. It was chaos," she said.

The country's mandatory quarantine only allows people to leave their homes to go to pharmacies and grocery stores.

A few hundred Americans were able to get charter flights home from Lima, but Parham isn't legally allowed to travel to Lima without a direct request from the U.S. government.

"Every route we take to obtain this permission leads to a dead end. A dead end of an email from the embassy telling us the same information over and over again," she said.

The "Americans Stuck in Peru" is a Facebook group launched by family members of other Americans stranded in the country. A spreadsheet posted in the group lists over 2,300 U.S. citizens as still abroad in Peru.

Senator Josh Hawley said last week he "is in contact with Missouri families and groups of travelers -- including a church group -- currently stranded in Guatemala, Honduras, the Philippines, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Peru."

Parham says she and her family have reached out to 16 members of Congress, including Hawley's office, but has received little response.

"We feel completely forgotten and alone here. Totally abandoned. Even once the quarantine is over, the flights have all been cancelled and airlines are saying they won’t be flying back to Lima until May," she said.

President Trump said in a daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing Thursday the military could be used to evacuate the U.S. citizens abroad. Parham has registered with the state department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program but hasn't received any word of a possible way home.