Dozens of US citizens evacuate Haiti on first State Department charter flight

Mar 18, 2024, 2:00 PM

The first evacuation flight out of Cap-Haitien, Haiti, landed at Miami International Airport on Sun...

The first evacuation flight out of Cap-Haitien, Haiti, landed at Miami International Airport on Sunday. Francius St. Alma of Miami was among the passengers. Mandatory Credit: Carl Juste/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

(CNN) — Dozens of US citizens have been evacuated from Haiti on a State Department charter flight, with more potentially on the horizon as the Caribbean nation remains paralyzed by escalating gang violence and political instability that has left bustling streets vacant and necessities like food and gas scarce.

The flight departed Sunday from Cap-Haitien on Haiti’s north coast and landed at Miami International Airport, the State Department said. More than 30 US citizens were onboard, and government officials are now “assisting with next steps,” a State Department spokesperson said.

A Florida-based non-profit, meanwhile, has rescued almost 40 Americans and allies from Haiti, it said, but still has over 100 people on its waiting list. American missionary Jill Dolan and her family in Port-au-Prince feel “like we are sinking in quick sand,” their organization wrote in a weekend Facebook post. “However, we are grateful to be alive.”

The State Department will continue to help US citizens looking to leave Haiti, with a deputy spokesperson calling it a “fluid and quickly evolving situation on the ground.”

“We’ll be in touch with them should additional measures materialize,” Vedant Patel said Monday at a news briefing, adding Haiti now is “one of the most dire humanitarian situations in the world.”

Project DYNAMO – a non-profit, veteran-led, donor-funded international search, rescue and aid group based in Tampa – has safely rescued nearly 40 Americans and allies, the group said.

“We got a bunch out” from a spot in Haiti closer to Cuba than Port-au-Prince, founder Bryan Stern told CNN on Monday afternoon. “We wanted to get more, but we had a fuel problem … so I really don’t wanna give out numbers because it’s very dangerous, it’s very complicated.”

The crisis in Haiti intensified early this month as rival gangs began wreaking coordinated havoc, security sources said. In Port-au-Prince – more than 100 miles from Cap-Haitien – the airport shuttered under siege by gangs amid fighting with police in the surrounding area. Gangs now control 80% of Port-au-Prince, according to UN estimates, and are severely limiting supplies of food, fuel and water across the city.

The gangs have pushed for the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who said last week he would resign following the establishment of a transitional council, which is expected to have membership finalized “as soon as today,” the State Department’s Patel said on Monday.

“The announcement of this council, we believe, will help pave the way for free and fair elections and the deployment of the multinational security support mission,” he said.

“The security situation in Haiti is unpredictable and dangerous,” the State Department said in a statement Saturday announcing the flight and warning of danger along the land route from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haitien.

“We recommend you consider the Cap-Haitien flight only if you believe you can reach Cap-Haitien airport safely,” the statement said. “We cannot provide overland travel from other parts of Haiti to Cap-Haitien.”

‘We need people’s help … bad’

With danger on virtually every street in Port-au-Prince, Dolan and her relatives are hiding in a guest house near the closed airport, CNN affiliate WPTV reported. The family also has documented its experience online through its nonprofit, Love A Neighbor, which oversees an orphanage, an elderly home and a family preservation project in rural Haiti.

“We hear a lot of gunfire, generally at night,” she told WPTV. “We hear a lot. Yesterday, there was a whole bunch of it, though, during the day. So, you just never know.”

One of Dolan’s daughters plans to get married later this month in Florida, so the rest of the family booked tickets to go to the US weeks before violence escalated in Haiti, she told the station. Because most airlines have suspended flights to and from the country, those tickets went unused, she said.

With its waiting list up to triple digits of people in need of rescue from Haiti, Project Dynamo needs more money for resources, Stern said, adding without funds, his hands are tied.

“We need people’s help, and we need it bad,” he said. “Some of these people are in extremely dire circumstances, and we can do it. I just need help with resources.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

CNN’s Michael Conte contributed to this report.

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Dozens of US citizens evacuate Haiti on first State Department charter flight