Seattle medical volunteer on humanitarian aid mission escapes Gaza

A Seattle woman on a humanitarian aid mission to help children has escaped Gaza and is on her way back home.

Those trying to get back to the Seattle area from the region will have to take a flight to a city where there is a direct flight to the U.S., and then take a connecting flight to Sea-Tac Airport.

But the journey is now complex amid the war between Israel and Hamas.

The U.S., Israel, and Egypt are in talks to create safe passage out of Gaza for Americans.

As Israeli airstrikes pound Gaza, we’re starting to hear from volunteers who are stuck there.

Seattle woman Ramona Okumura, with the Palestinian Children Relief Fund, is a volunteer. Her relatives were on CNN to announce she was now safe.

Her niece, Akemi Hiatt, spoke with CNN about watching Okumura cross into Egypt at 5 a.m., Hawaiian time.

The family is “incredibly relieved.”

Okumura is a former University of Washington lecturer who’s also an expert in making prosthetic limbs.

Okumura travels to Gaza periodically to help children with missing limbs.

We talked to her from afar about what she was experiencing in Gaza.

“We’re in a safe place, as safe as we can be. We can hear the bombs hitting all around us,” she said. “Occasionally, there’s one that shakes the windows.”

She talked about what it was like when her group left a hotel for a United Nations compound.

“It’s just a little 12-room hotel, but rockets and things were flying all over and they actually leveled a building 100 meters from where we stayed,” Okumura said. “The biggest problem we have is bombs are falling all around, rockets and missiles are falling all around, not to mention all the bullets and everything. It’s 20 miles drive down the road to Rafah.”

Even with the danger she was facing, her thoughts turned to the safety of others.

“I’m also worried about the people who can’t leave here. Eventually, I’ll get evacuated but half of the 2.3 million people in Gaza are children, and they can’t leave, and they have nothing to do with what’s going on here, so they will suffer,” she said before she was able to escape.

We also talked to one of Okumura’s relatives about the situation she was facing.

“It really hits that the way that people are suffering there, and the chance that she could be hurt when really, her only purpose for being there is to help innocent children,” Okumura’s niece, Erika Okumura said. “It’s terrifying, it’s scary, it’s overwhelming, but it’s inspiring first and foremost.”

Ramona Okumura is retired and we’re hearing from others with similar backgrounds to hers that will go to Gaza to provide humanitarian relief.

Many of them are Americans, and for days there have been reports that they may be able to get out of the area into Rafah, Egypt, in the Sinai Peninsula, which shares a border with Gaza.