Americans evacuated from a quarantined cruise ship get stuck on buses with no bathrooms and fly 10 hours in cargo planes
Posted February 17, 2020 10:54 a.m. EST
CNN — This holiday from hell just doesn't end.
More than 300 Americans quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship for almost two weeks finally headed home Sunday night. But their journey back to the US felt like trading one ordeal for another.
"They have sent over a dozen emails assuring us that there would not be an additional quarantine, and they just told us that we'd be re-quarantined for 14 more days," said a sobbing Karey Maniscalco.
"I've just lost a whole month of my life."
Others, like Gay Courter from Florida, were grateful to the US government.
"I want to go somewhere where I feel safe, and that is under American jurisdiction," she said. "I just want to thank President Trump and the US government. ... There has been a lot of silence, but now we realize silence has been putting together a very good plan."
More than 3,600 passengers have been stuck on the cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan, since February 4.
Since then, at least 456 people on the Diamond Princess tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,700 people and infected more than 71,000 others worldwide.
CNN got an exclusive look at the journey from the ship to a convoy of buses to US government chartered flights that took more than 300 Americans to military bases in California and Texas.
As they prepared to board the two planes, an official from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told them not to expect a normal flight.
"This is a converted cargo 747," the official said, wearing full protective gear. "So there is less insulation than a regular passenger jet. So bring extra layers to stay warm."
Before they boarded the planes, the passengers sat for hours on buses, with no access to bathrooms. A health worker at the front of a bus was covered head-to-toe in protective medical gear, just like everyone else who comes in contact with quarantined passengers.
"We're just waiting. I don't really know what we're waiting for," Maniscalco said from behind her face mask on the bus.
Finally, they were allowed off the buses and onto the tarmac at Tokyo's Haneda Airport. Exhausted cheers erupted.
Once on board the aircraft, they sat in temporary seats with makeshift bathrooms and no passenger windows.
"First class, baby," one woman joked.
The flights carried 14 passengers who tested positive for coronavirus, but who weren't showing symptoms.
US health officials apparently learned of the positive test results after those passengers boarded the buses and made a last-minute decision allowing them to board the flights.
The infected passengers were put in a specialized containment area on the flights, isolating them from the rest of the passengers.
But Maniscalco said she still worried about her health.
"It's not good conditions," she said on the plane, still wearing her face mask.
"No one on here has had their temperature taken by the federal government, or any government for that matter. So we're all sitting in really close, tight quarters. Everyone's sitting next to each other. I have a girl sitting here in just a minute. It seems dangerous."
After she landed, Maniscalco had a more optimistic view of the situation.
"Every single person we encountered was the most kind and thoughtful person," she said.
"They knew we were ornery and scared, and they did everything in their power to make us feel at ease. They kept saying that they knew we've been through a great ordeal and how stressed out we were, and now we are safe."