American who fled Libya

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: The United States meanwhile is trying to evacuate Americans in Libya by ferry, but some Americans have already made it out by plane. West Hartford, CT native Kerry Keating is among them. Kerry Keating is a social studies teacher at the American School in Tripoli, or at least she was until the unrest started over the weekend. Right now she's in Milan, Italy. She told us today what was happening in Tripoli when she decided it was time to go.

Kerry Keating: You know, I began becoming more and more concerned when we saw the situation with Ben Ghazi was heating up so quickly, and you could see it was not going the way that Tunisia had gone or Egypt had gone. We saw an increased police presence in and around Tripoli. So I was already nervous and had asked about exit plans. And then Sunday night I could hear gunfire in the distance and I saw on the news that you know, the violence had hit Tripoli. And then my phone wouldn't work and I knew we had to get out as fast as we could.

Mullins: Your phone wouldn't work, which was unusual?

Keating: Well, you know, they'd already blocked Facebook, and then the internet on the night before, on Saturday night, had been shut down completely for several hours. So none of these are good things; when they start blocking the media you know bad stuff is happening. And when the phone didn't work, I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life because I just felt so isolated out there with my little girl, and wasn't sure what to do or what was going on out there. I just knew I could hear gunfire in the distance and it was terrifying.

Mullins: I think we're hearing your little girl there in the background, is that it?

Keating: Yes, she's playing with her friend. We're visiting friends who also, they'd actually left Tripoli a couple weeks ago just for a trip, so.

Mullins: So you took off pretty quickly for your own safety, but I wonder if the point that you decided you had to leave, were you getting any kind of messages from the outside, anything that was reliable, or were you just going on gut?

Keating: Well, it was a lot of gut, but also you know, we could still watch the TV news, so most of our information was coming from you know, Aljazeera, and BBC, and CNN, and they're all speculating as well, so it was like this spinning vortex of speculation. But I think knowing enough about Gaddafi's history and knowing he was killing protestors, and Ben Ghazi, I just thought this is only gonna get worse.

Mullins: How about the other teachers at the school and children in fact at the school, I mean what were they hearing and were you hearing the same thing?

Keating: It happened very quickly, so we usually, our school week is usually Sunday through Thursday, but we had Sunday off from school for President's Day. We celebrated the American holiday because it's an American school. So we weren't in school on Sunday, and Sunday at 5 o'clock we had a meeting and we said we were gonna have school, but we knew that on Sunday several families had already left, that the oil companies had already gotten their women and children out. So that was kind of, you know, we said goodbye to some people that day. It was sort of like hmm, should we be going too? And then that night you know, the violence erupted. So Monday morning we all got ourselves to school. Some people had to get through road blocks, no one had slept. I was very fortunate that I already had a ticket set for Malta for next week, so I could change the ticket and get out, but most of the teachers were stuck.

Mullins: What was it like when you got to the airport and as you took off?

Keating: The people were still calm. You could feel the tension, but people were staying calm enough, it wasn't completely crazy yet. The pilots wouldn't leave until every seat was full, so they just kept waiting for people to get through the chaos inside. And the minute he took off, it was like the plane had been silent, and the minute he got the wheels up everyone just cheered. You know, it gives me the chills thinking about it because we were all just like [sigh], we got out, thank God. And from what I've heard via Facebook it's only gotten much more worse trying to get out.

Mullins: What are you hearing, Kerry, from your colleagues who are still on the ground in Libya through Facebook?

Keating: Well, I think all of them are gone now today, but they had Facebook because my school had satellite access to the internet. So all the teachers when I left them Monday morning, they were prepared to stay at the school. No one was going back to their homes, and so they were writing on Facebook. And in the beginning the messages were sort of, I could see they were trying to stay cheerful, 'Oh, we're camping out, we're using up the PTA hotdogs, we're playing basketball.' And by the next day they were, I'm sure they could probably hear gunfire by the next day, they were saying, 'Somebody please you know, write to your congressman, tell them to get us out of here.'

Mullins: Kerry, do you have any plans to go back? I know it's too early to tell if you'll be able to, but what's going on through your mind?

Keating: Well, on Monday we were all sitting around shell shocked, sort of saying okay, if it's a two-week break from school we're gonna come back on March 5 and we'll see what we have for students. I think we were sort of hoping it would end like Egypt or Tunisia, where it wouldn't be the same, but you could still pick up. Now, with the way it's deteriorated, I just don't see us going back. I'm assuming that what I've left is gone, and I'm hoping I will somehow be able to reconnect with people that had to stay, like my daughter's nanny who I'm very worried about, and her family. But I feel as if this stage Gaddafi won't let us back in if he lives. And if he doesn't we don't know what's going to happen there.

Mullins: Kerry, we're glad that you and your daughter are safe. And thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Kerry Keating, teacher at the American School in Tripoli, who has managed to escape and is now in Milan, Italy. Take good care, Kerry.

Keating: Okay, thank you.