FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Healthy passengers aboard two Holland America ships docked at Port Everglades are being allowed off the ships to begin their journey home.

Friday morning, Broward Sheriff’s deputies escorted busloads of passengers as they made their way to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. There they boarded charter flights. This will be repeated throughout the day and tomorrow. Destinations include Toronto, Atlanta, San Francisco, Paris, continuing to Frankfurt and London.

As passengers made their way onto the plane many were greeted with people in hazmat suits. At one point one person was checked out by paramedics and was cleared to travel.

The Zaandam, which had confirmed cases of coronavirus on board, and its sister ship Rotterdam were allowed to dock at the port on Thursday after days of negotiations with the US Coast Guard and local authorities, many of whom didn’t want an influx of more sick people into already-overwhelmed hospitals.

“Everyone has watched these ships for weeks on end now, floating out at sea stranded. Several countries denied them access,” said Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony. “This is America. We’ve never turned our back on our own members in the armed services, first responders or any aspect in our community. We didn’t want to start that in Broward County.”

On Thursday, first responders removed more than a dozen sick passengers from the ships and ferried them to a nearby hospital while limos lined up waiting to take healthy South Florida passengers home and workers sanitized countless pieces of luggage before passengers took it home.

Roy and Diane Smith, who live in Florida and stayed healthy during the voyage, were allowed to leave shortly after the ship docked.

“They had drivers waiting for us and loaded us up and brought us to our doorstep,” said Roy Smith. “When we got home last night we sat on the couch and said ‘Wow, are we really home?'”

Smith and his wife were quarantined in their room while on board. They had no balcony. Roy said it was great to breathe in fresh air.

“When I got up this morning the first thing I did was open up all the windows in the house so we can get some fresh air through the house, I then went outside. Oh man, this is so great,” he said.

Smith gave special thanks to the people of Fort Lauderdale and the greeting he got as they pulled into port.

“All the people were out on their balconies, out on the yard, waving flags and cheering as we came in. It was very heartwarming to see that kind of welcome,” he said.

Thirteen passengers who are seriously were taken to Broward Health Medical Center or Larkin Community Hospital. Another 26 passengers who have mild symptoms will remain on board to be treated and quarantined. Crew members will remain on the vessels. There are 4 patients onboard the Zaandam who died.

There were approximately 1,100 passengers on the Zaandam and Rotterdam.

All passengers coming off the ship will wear masks and have their temperature taken. Those who are flying home will be driven directly to the tarmac and will directly board charter planes. Officials say the passengers will not go into the airport and all passengers are being told to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning home.

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