Families await Peace Corps evacuees' homecoming

CHICAGO (AP) -- Families in the United States expect to be reunited as early as this weekend with some of the more than 300 Peace Corps volunteers being evacuated from three West African nations affected by the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history.

"We did really have faith in the Peace Corps that if things would become dangerous they would do what they're now doing," said Mirna Jope of Carmichael, California, whose 25-year-old son called home Thursday after learning he would be leaving Sierra Leone.

In his personal blog, Dawson Jope described the Peace Corps' withdrawal of all its workers from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia as "testament to the deadly potential and spread of the disease," noting the organization's first priority is volunteers' safety. More than 700 people have died in four countries since cases first emerged in March.

"I'm sure most of you have many, many questions. I have some answers, but not the time at the moment to present them all because me and my fifty-four other colleagues are in the hectic process of preparing for our evacuation of country," Jope wrote in a Thursday blog entry. "That statement alone does not come close to conveying the maelstrom of stresses that have been placed upon all of us so quickly thrust into this situation. Just know that we are all safe and healthy, and will soon be back in country."

A Peace Corps spokeswoman said the organization is working to bring the volunteers home as quickly as possible. The group's medical officers are assessing volunteers before their departure as a precaution. The organization is advising them to monitor their health, including checking their temperature twice daily per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The medical officers will check with returning volunteers and be on call if they experience symptoms or have concerns.

Two workers who have been exposed to the virus still were being monitored.

"The two Peace Corps volunteers who have had contact with an individual who later died of the virus are not symptomatic and are currently isolated and under observation," said spokeswoman Shira Kramer. "When they receive medical clearance for return to the U.S., we will work with them to travel safely back."

The departing volunteers don't know when they'll be permitted to return to West Africa, a disappointment for some who had long anticipated their service.

"I don't want to get Ebola, but I am willing to accept the possibility of contracting Ebola to do what I think is right," Dane Sosniecki, a 25-year-old volunteer in Liberia, wrote on this blog. "An old mentor of mine once said, 'Risk is part of the game if you want to sit in that chair.' You all know me, I'm all about that chair."

In Moberly, Missouri, Sosniecki's mother, Liz, said she shared her son's disappointment. He's been in Kakata, Liberia, for only six weeks. During that time he has been training to be a high school math teacher, his assignment during an anticipated two-year stint.

Liz Sosniecki says she's convinced that while Ebola is "a scary disease, it isn't as contagious as people are fearing." Contracting malaria is a higher risk, her son has told her, and she's found herself repeatedly comforting others in the city of 14,000 in north-central Missouri who have come into her gift shop and said they are worried about her son.

But while describing the telephone call in which Dane told her he was coming home, she apologized as she began to cry.

"I'm a little emotional," she said. "It's a relief."

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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