'It's been incredibly stressful': Lombard family fleeing war-torn Sudan after Ramadan visit
Azza Hamad spent weeks planning a trip to spend part of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in Sudan with family members.
Hours after the Lombard resident and her family arrived there earlier this month, however, fighting broke out in and around the capital city of Khartoum as forces loyal to two rival generals battled for control of the African country.
Hamad, her husband, their two small children and other family members were stranded in Omdurman, the major city across the Nile River west of Khartoum, as gunfire and shelling threatened the neighborhood where they were staying with extended family.
Fearful for their safety, family and friends back home have worked to get them out of harm's way. Hamad and her family, including her brother and mother, are among thousands of U.S. citizens scrambling to leave Sudan after the U.S. embassy evacuated personnel and closed earlier this week.
"It's been incredibly stressful," said Mihira Hamad, Azza's sister. "They tried to shelter in place and wait for the embassy to roll out some kind of evacuation plan. But it started getting really dangerous. (U.S. government staff) have been providing updates and sending emails, but it's difficult finding a safe way out."
Mihira Hamad said Azza and her husband, Mousab Mukhtar, ultimately decided to travel north by bus to the Egyptian border. After they were "outbid" by other higher-spending travelers for a couple of days, Mihira Hamad said, the family finally secured tickets.
According to Azza and Mihira's father, Abubakr Hamad, the family made it through the 14-hour bus ride from the outskirts of Khartoum. As of Wednesday night, they were waiting in line at the border with hopes of crossing Thursday into Egypt.
From there, the family will have to find transportation for a 12-hour ride to Cairo and then purchase tickets for a flight back home.
While the travel has been harrowing, the family considered it a better plan than the alternatives. One option was to head to a military airfield and hope to board a flight as part of European airlifts. Another option involved heading east to Port Sudan for a boat evacuation via the Red Sea.
A 72-hour cease-fire brokered Monday appeared to be holding, according to reports, although sporadic fighting has continued. More than 500 people have been killed since fighting broke out on April 15, including two American citizens.
"Finally, they're out of Khartoum. So it's a little safer," Abubakr Hamad said. "But it's difficult at the border because there are thousands of people trying to cross into Egypt. It'll take about 24 hours of waiting at the border for them to get through, and then they still have to get to Cairo."
Since word spread about the family's plight, friends in the community have tried to help. Many contacted local government officials for assistance.
Abubakr Hamad said he's endured many sleepless nights worrying about his family. Knowing they arrived at the border eased his mind a bit, but he still was anxious for them to return home.
Mihira Hamad said she's had consistent contact with Azza, but internet and cellphone connections have been spotty. Her tension level spiked whenever she hadn't heard from Azza in a while and she saw Omdurman mentioned in news reports as part of the fighting.
"I'd hear about a house being hit or casualties, and my mind went everywhere wondering if it was their house and my family," she said. "Hearing their voices and knowing it's so much safer than Khartoum. It's definitely a relief."