Jeddah, Saudi Arabia — More than 100 U.S. citizens finally made it to the safety of a port in Saudi Arabia Monday after evacuating the deadly fighting in Sudan. Some were aboard a second convoy of buses that left Sudan’s battle-scarred capital of Khartoum on Friday, making the 500-mile drive to reach Port Sudan on the country’s east coast.
Sunday night, along with about 200 more civilians from 16 other countries, they left the port on board the U.S. Navy fast transport ship Brunswick. Monday morning, after a 200-mile, 12-hour Red Sea crossing, they reached Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
There was celebration and relief among the weary people coming ashore. They were among about 1,000 U.S. civilians the American government has managed to evacuate from Sudan after more than two weeks of chaos unleashed by Sudan’s two most powerful men battling for power.
The fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group, led by rival commanding generals, has left more than 500 people dead according to the United Nations, which expects that to be a low preliminary estimate.
Despite another formal extension of a ceasefire between the sides over the weekend, the sound of shelling and gunfire were still heard Monday morning, and Sudan’s two largest cities, neighboring Khartoum and Omdurman, were littered with overturned, burnt-out vehicles and rubble-strewn roads.
It’s a new normal that has driven a frantic exodus of not only foreign nationals, but Sudanese desperate to escape their own country. The sporadic violence continuing despite almost a week of ceasefires has complicated the international evacuation efforts and led to crowds and confusion at Sudan’s border crossings.
After a Turkish evacuation flight came under fire earlier in the week outside Khartoum, U.S. officials said the bus convoy carrying Americans on the harrowing drive from Khartoum to Port Sudan was defended from overhead, presumably watched over by drones.
Even after they made it to Port Sudan, the Americans were stuck there for more than 24 hours before they could board the Brunswick to escape the country.
“I feel relieved,” one man coming off the ship in Jeddah on Monday told CBS News. Despite difficulty receiving emails due to communications outages in Sudan, the New Yorker lauded the efforts of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, which had to be orchestrated largely in exile after American diplomats and their families were evacuated more than a week ago.
“Thank God the ones [emails] we did get, we used it, and we’re here,” the man told CBS News.
He said the scariest part was leaving the house where he’d been in Khartoum. As they came out onto the streets, he said there were “a lot of people with guns.”
Another American evacuee said they were “relieved” to be out of the country. “Better than Sudan,” they said, walking along the port in Jeddah, adding that it was “scary to hear gunshots outside the house” in Khartoum.
Melaz, from Queens, New York, said she had seen dead bodies on the streets of Sudan’s capital, and the fear as their bus convoy trundled toward the coast was getting stopped by armed factions, as they “might take you off the bus… You really don’t know, because they all have the same uniform.”
She planned to fly straight back to the U.S. from Saudi Arabia.
“I feel relieved,” she said. “I’m happy.”
But not every American who wanted to escape has made it out of Sudan. There is no confirmed count on how many U.S. nationals remain in the county, but U.S. officials said Sunday that fewer than 5,000 Americans had sought guidance on how to get out.
Two U.S. nationals, including a doctor who lived in Iowa City who was stabbed to death the day he and his family tried to leave, have been killed amid the chaos.
Overnight, more anxious people crowded into holding areas at Port Sudan, waiting for the next ship to spirit them and their families to safety.
If and when they do escape, they will leave Sudan behind, teetering on the edge of all-out civil war.