Canceled flights strand 25 Easter Islanders for 6 months

Canceled flights strand 25 Easter Islanders for 6 months

Monitoring Desk

WELLINGTON: For people around the world, the coronavirus has caused distressing separations and delayed homecomings. But the situation for a group of 25 residents from remote Easter Island stands out. For six months now the group has been stranded far across a vast stretch of ocean on Tahiti in French Polynesia. Children remain separated from their parents, husbands from their wives.

Mihinoa Terakauhau Pont, a 21-year-old mom who is among those stranded, is due to give birth to her second son any day now, but can’t have her husband by her side because he’s back home. Her grief has left her exhausted. “I can’t cry anymore,” she said. “My heart is cold.”

Usually considered a tropical paradise, Tahiti has become a kind of prison to them. Many arrived in March planning to stay for just a few weeks — they’d come for work, or a vacation, or for medical procedures. But they got stuck when the virus swept across the globe and their flights back home were canceled. Each day they have been going to the authorities and begging for help in Spanish, in French, and in English.

They’ve considered chartering a plane or trying to hitch a lift on a military ship to make the journey of some 4,200 kilometers (2,600 miles). But each time their hopes rise a little, their plans turn out to be too expensive or impractical.

Home to about 8,000 people, Easter Island is a tiny speck in the vast Pacific Ocean, located midway between Polynesia, in the South Pacific, and South America. Also named Rapa Nui, the Chilean territory is renowned for its imposing moai — giant heads carved from volcanic rock by inhabitants hundreds of years ago.

For Easter Islanders, Tahiti has long been a stopping-off point, a connection to the rest of the world. Until the virus struck, LATAM airlines ran a regular return route from Santiago, Chile, to Easter Island and on to Tahiti. LATAM said it suspended the route in March because of the virus and doesn’t have a timeline for restarting it. No other airlines offer a similar service. (AP)

Posted in