More Americans evacuate Haiti on a US-chartered helicopter flight, State Department says

ByJennifer Hansler, Christina Maxouris and Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN
Wednesday, March 20, 2024
A team to choose Haiti's next leader takes shape as gang violence engulfs the Caribbean nation
Nominees have been submitted for a transitional presidential council charged with selecting an interim prime minister for Haiti, which remains engulfed in gang violence.

Another group of Americans was evacuated from Haiti on a US-chartered helicopter flight on Wednesday - marking the latest of what the State Department expects to be "multiple trips" to get US citizens out safely as the Caribbean nation sinks into chaos amid rampant gang violence and political instability.

The video is from a previous report.

Wednesday's flight carried "over 15 US citizens" from the capital city of Port-au-Prince, a State Department Spokesperson said, adding they expect more than 30 Americans will be able to board the US government flights each day they are chartered.

"We will continue to monitor demand from US citizens for assistance in departing Haiti on a real-time basis," the spokesperson added. "The overall security situation, availability and reliability of commercial transportation, and US citizen demand will all influence the duration of this departure assistance."

The city's international airport remains shuttered - and it's now among the network of city blocks, government buildings and police stations overtaken by coordinated gang attacks since the beginning of the month.

Earlier Wednesday, State Department Deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a news briefing the charter flights would be heading to Santo Domingo, in the neighboring Dominican Republic. From there, Americans will be responsible for their own travel home, Patel said.

"We do expect these helicopter movements to make multiple trips in order to try and get as many American citizens as we can today, while also continuing to look at what options might be available... for reoccurring movements in the days ahead, and even beyond," Patel said.

Americans on flights coordinated by the US government must agree to reimburse the government for the cost, which the State Department has said won't exceed the price of a reasonable commercial flight before the crisis.

The State Department's first chartered evacuation flight on Sunday carried more than 30 US citizens from Cap-Haitien - a city on Haiti's north coast that's more than 120 miles from Port-au-Prince - to Miami. The State Department will "continue to explore operating out of Cap-Haitien for people to be able to leave from there," the department spokesperson said.

Hundreds more US citizens remain in the Haiti and nearly 1,000 had filled out crisis intake forms as of Tuesday morning, Patel previously told CNN. That number includes people who either want to leave or want to receive more information from US officials.

Conditions in the capital city have grossly deteriorated amid the unprecedented assault, which pushed Prime Minister Ariel Henry to announce his resignation last week. Criminal groups have choked off the city's supply of food, fuel and water, and blocked access to the port and roads leading out of the city, leaving residents to shelter in their homes as the streets become grounds for urban warfare between the gangs and Haiti's National Police.

Meanwhile other groups are also attempting to coordinate rescues, including veteran-run nonprofit Project DYNAMO. The Tampa, Florida-based group said Monday it had received more than 100 rescue requests from Americans, and that list was growing.

"It is very hard," cofounder and CEO Bryan Stern told CNN on Monday. The group has been focused on Americans stranded in remote areas where no other rescue resources exist. That has often meant several modes of transportation are required to complete an evacuation. "We've been working day and night," Stern said.

Most Haitians, however, don't have the option to leave.

A small class of wealthy foreigners and diplomats are among the few able to charter private evacuation helicopters out of the city. Hundreds of people have put their names on lists to flee Port-au-Prince by air, several pilots told CNN last week, when seats on private flights had price tags as high as $10,000.

Typically packed streets of the capital have become ghostlands as residents rarely leave their homes under the threat of violence, CNN crews have reported. Attacks and arson have also displaced thousands of people who have massed into dozens of displacement camps across the city.

As vital food and water supplies dwindle, the United Nations said it was working to set up an air bridge between Port-au-Prince and Santo Domingo to bring necessities to the city.

CNN's Caitlin Hu, David Culver, Evelio Contreras, Michael Conte and Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.

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