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Haiti’s main international airport reopens nearly three months after gang violence forced its closure – WSVN 7News | Miami News, Weather, Sports

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s main international airport reopened Monday for the first time in nearly three months after brutal gang violence forced authorities to close the airport.

The reopening of Toussaint-Louverture Airport in the capital Port-au-Prince is expected to help alleviate the critical shortage of medicines and other basic supplies. The country’s main seaport remains paralyzed. Gangs control 80% of the capital.

US-based airlines are not expected to start using the airport until late May or early June.

The first commercial passenger flight since March took off for Miami nearly two hours behind schedule, with sweaty passengers complaining about the lack of air conditioning until takeoff. Although the flight was organized by local airline Sunrise Airways, it contracted Florida-based charter company World Atlantic, which handed out paper towels to drenched passengers.

As the plane roared down the runway and took off, a passenger said in a low voice, “Yes. Yes.”

Before Monday, Haiti’s only airport was in the northern coastal city of Cap-Haïtien. It was inaccessible to many who wanted to flee the country because the roads out of Port-au-Prince were controlled by gangs who opened fire on passing cars and buses.

The US government had evacuated hundreds of citizens by helicopter from a hilly neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, as did non-profit groups, as gangs laid siege to parts of the capital.

The attacks began on February 29, with gunmen taking control of police stations, opening fire at Port-au-Prince airport and storming Haiti’s two largest prisons, freeing more than 4,000 prisoners.

Gangs have since targeted previously peaceful communities, leaving thousands homeless.

According to the United Nations, more than 2,500 people were killed or injured in Haiti between January and March, an increase of more than 50% compared to the same period last year.

In the Couronne Bar, near the only airport gate open on Monday, 43-year-old manager Klav-Dja Raphael welcomed her first customers. But her smile belied her fear.

“We are scared because they can still attack us here,” she said. ‘We have to come in. It’s our job, but we’re scared.” She recalled how bullets ricocheted through the airport the day it was attacked.

While the airport provided the workers at that bar with a monthly wage, she remained unemployed the rest of the time and had to rely on friends and family. She would like to join her 13-year-old son, who lives with his father in Florida.

Other workers, including those from immigration, were all smiles, happy to finally be back at work. “That was a long vacation!” said an immigration agent.

Dozens of people lined up hours before the flight.

“I am very happy, but it hurts that I have to leave my husband and my son,” Darling Antoine said as her eyes began to tear.

She has been granted a visa allowing her to live in the US, but the rest of her family is still waiting. They applied because gangs continued to infiltrate their neighborhoods. “There are heavy gunshots every day,” she said. “Sometimes we have to hide under the bed.”

Jean Doovenskey, a 31-year-old accountant left jobless by the violence, said he was told in early April that he was allowed to live in the US. He will live with his aunt in Florida, but hopes to one day return to Haiti and live. “I believe in a new Haiti,” he said.

The airport attack also left former Prime Minister Ariel Henry locked out of Haiti as he was on an official trip to Kenya. He has since resigned and a presidential transition council is looking for a new prime minister. It is also charged with selecting a new cabinet and organizing general elections.

In recent weeks, U.S. military planes have landed at Port-au-Prince airport with supplies and civilian contractors to help Haiti prepare for the arrival of foreign troops expected to help quell gang violence.

Kenya’s Chief Foreign Secretary Korir Sing’oei said on Sunday that a plan to deploy police officers from the East African country was in its final stages.

“I can tell you with certainty that the deployment will take place in the coming days, weeks,” he said.

In March, Kenya and Haiti signed agreements to try to salvage a plan that would see the country deploy 1,000 police officers to the troubled Caribbean country. Other countries expected to support the Kenyan forces include the Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Bangladesh. It was not immediately clear when these would arrive.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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