HAMILTON, NJ --  16-year-old Hamilton resident Noelia Manion is home after finding herself stuck thousands of miles from home thanks to the spread of coronavirus. Her ordeal, that started as part of a student exchange program, saw her have to contend with the closure of Peru's borders, a 15-day quarantine, and stoppage of all official flights to repatriate foreign visitors.

On Monday, David Manion told TAPinto Hamilton/Robbinsville that his daughter arrived in Peru on February 29 and spent the first two weeks in Lima with a local family as part of the student program before going to visit family in the suburb of Callao.  

"Noelia arrived in Peru one day before everything went crazy and at the time there were no reported cases of coronavirus there," said Manion.  "We never felt fear for her safety because she was with family who were following strict curfews," noted Manion who added that Peru "went into lockdown very early.  All cars are banned there. Even when her uncle drove her about 40 minutes to the Embassy, he was stopped about ten times"

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The Manion family expressed appreciation to Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ-04) and his staff for "helping move things along" to return Noelia home.  

“When a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic strikes, you want to be in familiar surroundings and close to the ones you love and the medical professionals you know and trust,” said Smith. 

According to statement Smith worked with the stranded Americans, their families here at home, the U.S. Ambassador to Peru, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in Lima, and several top officials at the State Department to usher all home to the United States. He also penned multiple letters to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlining the names, location, and needs of the New Jersey residents and others desperate to find a way home before asking the nation's top foreign relations official to “reassure trapped Americans and their families that their needs are being prioritized” so they and all Americans trapped around the globe due to the emergency should know that the U.S. government is doing everything it can to bring them home.

Smith spoke at length with the U.S. Ambassador to Peru Krishna Urs, and other state officials, highlighting specific cases including those individuals stuck in Peru urging charter flights or military transport to bring American citizens home.  

“To some extent U.S. officials were working their hardest, but something just wasn’t clicking,” Smith said.  “Perhaps the abrupt decision by the Peruvian government caught the Embassy off guard, but going forward they must be more flexible, more nimble and better prepared to evacuate Americans from the challenging terrains of Peru, or anywhere, without an uproar from a local Congressman and added anxiety for relatives, mostly parents, desperately waiting at home.”

According to State Department officials, there were still more than 2,500 Americans trying to get home from Peru, and the U.S. government will begin charting three flights a day, every day until all Americans who want to come home, have come home. Smith also has worked to successfully secure the return of NJ residents from the Dominican Republic and Honduras during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Individuals who are stranded overseas, or have a family member unable to return home, can contact Smith's office at (732) 780-3035 for help.

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