As Coloradans struggle to get home from Gaza and Israel, some are turning to their members of Congress for help

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Photo provided by Dr. Paul Preston
Dr. Barbara Zind has been working with the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund for more than a decade.

A Grand Junction doctor who was doing humanitarian work in Gaza remains stuck there as the fighting intensifies between Israel and Hamas.

Dr. Barbara Zind has been working with the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund since 2010, helping kids with chronic diseases. She arrived Friday, according to her husband Dr. Paul Preston, and was only supposed to be there for three days.

He said she was walking on the beach on Saturday with a colleague and his daughter when they saw rockets being fired towards Israel.

“At that point she went back to her hotel and has been in her hotel since that day,” Preston said. The hotel still had water and electricity, as of the last time he’d talked to his wife.

Zind was supposed to leave through the Rafah crossing, the only point of entry between Gaza and Egypt, but an Israeli airstrike hit that crossing Tuesday. 

Preston said he has been talking to his wife three or four times a day, but was waiting for her next call when he spoke to CPR News.

While Preston is “stressed out” waiting for his wife to make it out of the war zone, he said Zind’s spirits are “probably better than mine.”

He added, “we have a Palestinian sister-in-law who has been through bombardments before. And [she] has been giving [Zind] good hints about what part of the room to get into... So she’s hanging in there.”

Still, he is hoping elected American officials can do more to help people stuck in Israel and Gaza. 

Zind isn’t the only Coloradan struggling to get away from the fighting. Denver resident Barry Curtiss-Lusher, a former national chair for the Anti-Defamation League, had just arrived in Israel with his wife and friends on Friday and was staying about 40 miles from the Gaza Strip when the Hamas assault began. 

On Saturday, his 72nd birthday, the couple woke up to “sirens and three distinct explosions.”

“[We] opened up the drapes and looked outside and couldn't really see much, but then heard an announcement of everybody to head for safe rooms,” he told CPR News. (A disclosure: Curtiss-Lusher formerly served as the chair of the board for CPR.)

It took Curtiss-Lusher and his wife until Tuesday to be able to leave the country, managing to get seats on a flight to Greece. They spent the time waiting near bomb shelters and listening for warning sirens.

The commercial airport is still open in Tel Aviv, but some major U.S. airlines, such as United, American and Delta, have suspended direct flights to Israel. The State Department spokesman said on Tuesday they are in contact with “various carriers to encourage them to consider resuming travel in and out of Israel.”

Colorado residents who are in Israel or Gaza, or have family there, have been reaching out to Colorado’s congressional offices, asking for help to leave. The offices are trying to help connect people on the ground with the U.S. Embassy in Israel or consular services in Washington.

A spokesperson for Rep. Brittany Pettersen’s office said they’re sending information to the U.S. State Department “to hopefully expedite this process,” as well as helping people enroll in the State Department’s STEP Program, which can help embassies on the ground assist American citizens and provide them with up-to-date information.

The Biden Administration said on Tuesday it's confirmed that 14 Americans were killed during Hamas' initial attack, and 20 or more are currently missing.

A spokesperson for Bennet said his office “is assisting several constituents currently in Israel and Gaza. Any Coloradan or U.S. citizen visiting Israel or with family in the region who needs federal assistance should contact the U.S. Embassy in Israel.”

Meanwhile, Preston said he will do what he can to make sure his wife gets out of Gaza and returns home safely to Grand Junction.

CPR’s Paolo Zialcita contributed reporting to this story.