ISTANBUL (KSNT) – On Saturday, Oct. 7, Emporia Middle School Teacher Joanna Kessinger was at the ancient ruins of Masada in Israel when she heard bombs going off in the Gaza Strip. Kessinger realized instantly it wasn’t a normal sound.

Joanna Kessinger on top of the ancient ruins of Masada in Israel. Kessinger said the photo was taken moments before she heard the first bombs go off. (Image courtesy of Kessinger)

“Within 10 to 15 minutes they had us down off the mountain and back to the hotel in Jerusalem,” Kessinger said. “We were basically holed up there for the rest of the day and unsure what to do.”

Kessinger’s flights were canceled out of Tel Aviv and the group’s tour guides were trying to get flights out of the country. Kessinger said every time they almost had something scheduled, it’d get canceled. All of the smaller airports were shut down.

On Sunday, Oct. 8, Kessinger said the streets of Jerusalem were absolutely quiet. Everybody was inside and shops were closed.

“There was really no place to go because they were all basically inside in mourning,” she said.

On Monday, Oct. 9, Kessinger was woken up and told their group would be getting on the bus to the border of Israel and Jordan. She said getting across the border by bus was about the only way to leave the country.

“We think we have found a border crossing,” Kessinger said she was told. “We have an appointment, we think we’ll be able to get you out of Israel and into Jordan.”

Kessinger said their group was desperately trying to schedule flights for people. She said there were thousands and thousands of people trying to get out of Jerusalem and airports were inundated with people trying to get home. She said their group of roughly 40 people was lucky to get through the border. They traveled throughout the day and finally got to Amman, Jordan where they checked into a hotel.

“They told us we got out right before they had bombed Jerusalem,” Kessinger said.

Kessinger was supposed to be back in school teaching on Tuesday.

“Instead (now) I’m sitting in a hotel in Istanbul just thanking the lord that this is where I am,” she said.

Kessinger’s group was organized by Educational Opportunities Tours. Lots of people from the group have already caught flights home. She said there are currently four from her group in Istanbul and they’d be there until their flight on Friday later this week.

Kessinger said some of the people who were helping them get out of Israel had been up for 24 to 36 hours trying to get people out of the country.

“A couple of people were able to get individual flights to get home, but many people had to fly to different countries,” she said. “And then had layovers. So, it’s definitely been an interesting experience I think I’ve had about 10 hours of sleep in the last three days.”

Kessinger said she’s received fantastic support from the school system and that there were some amazing English teachers taking care of her 8th-grade Language Arts class. She said she’d received a message or two from students who’d started to figure out something was wrong.

“I have gotten a wonderful message or two saying ‘Hey Miss K, are you okay?'” she said.

Kessinger is hopeful to make it back to the Sunflower State later this week. She has a confirmed flight and, if nothing goes wrong, will be back in the USA on Friday.