Haiti’s main international airport is reopening almost three months after gang violence forced its closure

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 to all traffic in early March.

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 to all traffic in early March.

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 as the country’s main seaport remains paralyzed.

For now, however, only Sunrise Airways, a local airline, flies in and out of Port-au-Prince. It is expected that US-based airlines will not start this until late May or early June.

The first expected flight was one from Sunrise Airways bound for Miami, scheduled to depart at 2:30 PM EDT.

Before Monday’s reopening, the only airport in Haiti was in the northern coastal city of Cap-Haïtien. However, it has been inaccessible for many seeking to flee the country as the roads leading from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haïtien are controlled by gangs who have opened fire on passing cars and buses.

As a result, the US government evacuated hundreds of its citizens by helicopter from a hilly neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, as did non-profit groups, while powerful 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.

At the Couronne Bar, near the only gate open on Monday, 43-year-old manager Klav-Dja Raphael welcomed her first customers and provided fast service for the coffee, water and the occasional Prestige beer that they ordered.

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.”

Raphael recalled how bullets ricocheted through the airport the day it was attacked, forcing the airport to close for almost three months.

While the airport provided them with a monthly wage, she remained unemployed for 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!” an immigration agent exclaimed as she grinned.

Dozens of people lined up at the Sunrise Airways counter hours before the afternoon flight, some taking selfies, others happily chatting.

“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.”

A man dressed all in black except for a red jacket asked if Antoine could take a photo of him as he posed with a slight smile on his face and a gold cross around his neck.

“I am very happy,” said Jean Doovenskey, a 31-year-old accountant who has been left unemployed by the violence. “We suffered from it for a long time. We did not have the privilege of flying.”

In early April he was notified that he had been cleared to live in the US, but all he could do was wait. He will live with his aunt in Jacksonville, Florida, but he hopes to one day return to Haiti and live there. “I believe in a new Haiti,” he said.

The airport attack left former Prime Minister Ariel Henry locked out of Haiti as he was on an official trip to Kenya at the time. He has since resigned and a presidential transition council is looking for a new prime minister for Haiti. 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 including medicine and hydration fluids, as well as civilian contractors to help Haiti prepare for the arrival of foreign troops expected to help quell the violence oppression unleashed by gangs in control. 80% of the capital.

Korir Sing’oei, Kenya’s chief foreign secretary, 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 that deployment will take place in the coming days and weeks,” he said.

Sing’oei added that “there is no chance at all” that Kenyan President William Ruto will visit Haiti.

Ruto was scheduled to leave Kenya on Sunday for an official four-day visit to the US, where he is expected to meet President Joe Biden.

In March, Kenya and Haiti signed agreements to try to salvage a plan for the African country to deploy 1,000 police officers to the troubled Caribbean country to help stem the violence.

Other countries expected to support the Kenyan forces include the Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Chad and Bangladesh. It was not immediately clear when those troops would arrive.

Danica Coto, The Associated Press