NJ girls in Georgia reunited with dad

Taken to U.S. Embassy
August 21, 2008 2:46:43 PM PDT
Two little girls from New Jersey were reunited with their father Thursday and will be returning home soon after being trapped by violence in the Republic of Georgia for two weeks. They arrived at the U.S. Embassy in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi after a six-hour ride in a vehicle with French Ambassador Eric Fournier. They met their father there, and also got McDonald's Happy Meals and cake.

Fournier said in a telephone interview that the girls, 7-year-old Ashley and 3-year-old Sophia Evans, got through a checkpoint in the town of Gori after getting permission to keep traveling from a Russian general.

The girls' father, Joseph Evans, said they'll be back home in Howell - and reunited with their Georgian-born mother, Tea-h - within a few days. Tea-h (TEE uh) Evans said travel plans were not complete by midday Thursday.

She wants her daughters to have some happy times after their scary experience. "I take them to have fun, make their lives a little better and try to forget what they went through," she said.

Ashley Evans, who is about to start second grade, said in a phone interview that she misses "everything" about being home.

"We're all on clouds over here," said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, who orchestrated the girls' passage.

Tea-h Evans, a chef, moved to the United States about 10 years ago. Her American husband is a New Jersey Transit bus driver. Their girls have spent a part of most summers in Georgia visiting their maternal grandparents on their farm.

This summer, their parents took them in June and their grandmother was to bring them back to New Jersey on Aug. 26. But Russian troops invaded the former Soviet republic and cut off passage within the country.

Joseph Evans says his younger daughter did not understand what was going on, but the older one did. He said she told him on the phone: "I want to go home, the Russian troops are here."

But he said the girls were able to keep playing on the farm and remained several miles from any violence.

This week, Smith, a New Jersey Republican who has been involved in human rights efforts around the world for decades, flew to Georgia to seek help getting them out. Fournier was willing to help.

Traveling with members of an aid group, he reached them around 8 a.m. local time Thursday. The passage back to the capital included about 10 checkpoints and took six hours, Fournier said.

At the checkpoint where they were stalled, the ambassador started working his phone. "We were calling military, diplomats, everybody," he said.

Finally, he said, a Russian general called and gave them permission to pass.

The U.S. State Department is monitoring about 30 U.S. citizens under 18 who are in Georgia without their parents.

Smith said he wants to set up a corridor for American children, along with the sick and disabled to be able to get out of violent areas.

Joseph Evans said next summer, his daughters might not visit their grandparents. "Man, this is about it for me," he said. "I think I'll take them to the beach next summer."

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