Calgary

Helicopter carries Alberta missionaries to Port-au-Prince airport as aid workers find way out of Haiti

A group of 24 missionaries from Alberta has arrived safely at the Miami airport, after flying out of Haiti on Saturday afternoon.

Group of 24 aid workers from Haiti Arise is paying $6,900 cost of evacuation

A group of missionaries from Alberta wait for a helicopter to take them to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Saturday. (Haiti Arise/Facebook)

A group of 24 missionaries from Alberta has arrived safely at the Miami airport, after flying out of Haiti on Saturday afternoon. 

Working for the aid group Haiti Arise, the missionaries had been stranded for several days at their compound near Grand Goave, about 65 kilometres west of the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

The members were airlifted by helicopter to Toussaint Louverture International Airport in three waves. The first group was then able to get on a flight to Miami, the second was scheduled to depart for Miami about 4 p.m. ET and the third at 5:20 p.m ET. The group will spend the night in Miami, before flying back to Alberta on Sunday.

The cost of the evacuation for the whole group is about $6,900, which they are paying themselves.

They were originally scheduled to leave the country on Wednesday, however the ongoing protests meant ground travel was impossible as several of the main streets and roads are blocked or damaged.

In unrest centred mainly around the capital city, protesters are demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse over skyrocketing inflation and the government's failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion dollar Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to the country.

"We got some reports from people coming out that it's starting to spread, so it may get dangerous in the bigger cities," said James Roberts, vice-president of Haiti Arise.

Alberta missionaries are all smiles as a helicopter arrived to take them about 65 kilometres from Grand Goave to Port-au-Prince so they could catch flights home. (Haiti Arise/Facebook)

On Tuesday, Global Affairs Canada issued an advisory warning against all non-essential travel to the country. On Thursday, it advised against all travel.

The Canadian Embassy in Haiti was also closed on Wednesday due to the unrest.

Working in the country since 2002, Haiti Arise has three compounds near Grand Goave.

"We have a staff of just over 100 Haitian nationals," said Roberts.

"We have a primary school with about 400 kids. We have an adult trade school with about 350 students. We have a medical clinic. We have a children's village with 18 rescued slave children. We have a legal aid clinic. We're building a birthing centre — we're there long-term."

Demonstrators run away from police who are shooting in their direction, as a car burns during a protest demanding the resignation of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday. The protests have blocked access to the airport. (Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press)

Watching the violence and unrest unfold is "heartbreaking" for the group, said Roberts.

"We've been through the earthquake, we've been through hurricanes, we've been through the riots, and we see the progress that's made, then the progress that's given up," he said.

"That's the disheartening part."

Another group, Heart to Heart Children's Home based in Abbotsford, B.C., has a group of 12 medical personnel also staying near Grand Goave.

They are scheduled to leave on Feb. 20, but spokesperson Emily Banks says they are trying to depart earlier.

"We have three doctors, three support workers, one pharmacist and five registered nurses," she said.

"We have an orphanage there where we have just under 120 Haitian children, then we also have an elementary school that educates up to 700 children during the year."

The medical team has been offering mobile clinics in the area and will continue to help where they can while still there, said Banks.

"We have enough food and drinking water for them to be safe for the time being," she said.

"They hired numerous motorcycles to carry themselves and all of their equipment up into the mountains [on Friday] and they were able to treat just under 300 Haitian people who needed medical care. That's work they would have done anyway."

Helicopters were also being used to ferry a group of 100 Quebec tourists from a beach resort about 80 kilometres northwest of Port-au-Prince to the airport.

A group of 26 missionaries affiliated with La Bible Parle, a Christian group, were also supposed to return to Quebec Wednesday but are stuck in a village about 200 kilometres outside Port-au-Prince.

About the Author

Dave Dormer

Web writer

Dave Dormer joined CBC Calgary in May 2016. A graduate of the SAIT photojournalism program, Dave has worked in print and television newsrooms across western Canada. Story ideas can be sent to dave.dormer@cbc.ca

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