One N.J. couple finally made it home after being stuck overseas due to coronavirus, but many remain stranded

One N.J. couple finally made it home after being stuck overseas due to coronavirus, but many remain stranded


By:  Jonathan D. Salant
NJ.com

It started off as a great trip.

Katherine and Berdj Feredjian of Kinnelon decided to vacation in Morocco for their 40th anniversary there. They went online and discovered there had been only two cases of the coronavirus, so they booked a tour and headed oversees.

“We figured we might be going to a safer place,” Berdj said.

It didn’t work out that way. While they were overseas, they heard that Morocco was going to ground all international commercial flights, leaving the Feredjians to scramble and finally get on board a rescue flight to London, and from there back to New Jersey on Saturday.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said his office has heard from another 100 New Jerseyans who are in Morocco, Peru, Guatemala and other countries and are trying to get home. They included a handful of people in their 20s at an air B&B and guests trying to return from a wedding from Honduras.

Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has received pleas from help from not only constituents like the Feredjians but his fellow senators trying to help residents of their states.

He’s had so many requests for assistance that he has set up a separate email address for New Jerseyans, COVIDTravel@menendez.senate.gov. He also asked President Donald Trump to use military transport planes, chartered flights and near-empty commercial airliners to fly Americans home.

It also recommended that U.S. citizens overseas enroll in STEP.state.gov for safety and security information, including news about scheduled flights, and to monitor the website of the American embassy of the country they are visiting.

After learning that Morocco was going to stop international travel, the Feredjians cut short their trip and tried to find a way home, working with both their tour guide and the U.S. consulate. They tried to rebook, only to discover the flights were cancelled.

On Thursday, they hunkered down in Casablanca to await further instructions. “We could be leaving any time, any place,” Feredjian said.

The notice came a day later: There’s a bus with other trapped American tourists leaving for the Marrakhesh Airport. Be on it.

“We kept praying something was going to come through," Feredjian said. "Even when we were on the bus going to the airport, we still didn’t know what would happen. We wanted to make sure the wheels were up in the air.”

When the plane landed in London on Friday, the Feredjians said they still didn’t know how they would get to the U.S.

“Every two hours I’m waking up, checking my email, nothing, nothing, nothing,” said Berdj Feredjian. His and his wife’s names weren’t added to the passenger list for their flight until they were waiting on line at the airport.

Another New Jerseyan, law student Kaitlin Fusco of Clifton, had visited Morocco several times, including for an overseas study program. She, too, was stuck after the country banned international flights, and joined a Facebook group of stranded Americans to commiserate and share information.

She said she initially stayed away from the airport as the Facebook page featured videos of crowds trying to go home.

“I felt like going to the extremely crowded airport was more risky,” said Fusco, who is not related to the Freehold family of the same name where four people have died of the coronavirus. “I didn’t want to go into this mass of people.”

Upon their return to the U.S.. both the Feredjians and Fusco said they would self-quarantine for two weeks in case they were infected.

“I’m not going anywhere for 14 days,” Fusco said. “That’s where the story ends.”