A terrifying situation has been developing in Haiti and several American missionary teams are right in the middle of it.
Violent riots erupted after the impoverished nation’s government announced they would be raising fuel prices to close a budget deficit. In a nation where most people make around $2/day, the increase would bring gas prices to about $20/gallon.
Protesters have been looting, setting fires and wielding weapons. The government has not officially recognized any deaths due to the protests but photos tell a different story.
The bodies of two men lie outside a burned and looted store, as one of the men’s relatives stands between them, after two days of protests against a planned hike in fuel prices in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Sunday, July 8, 2018. Government officials had agreed to reduce subsidies for fuel as part of an assistance package with the International Monetary Fund, but the government suspended the fuel hike after widespread violence broke out. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
Several missionary teams from South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Michigan have found themselves cut off from the airport and stranded in the villages they were serving. Some teams have found a way out but others have experienced some terrifying moments as they wait for their opportunity to leave the island. Volunteer Savannah Peek spoke with WSOCTV about her experience so far.
“We heard gunshots start and they were very close,” Peek said. “At this point, we all dropped immediately to the ground. We’re all on our hands and knees. Everyone’s screaming, everyone’s crying.”
Peek said guns were handed out to civilians for protection.
“People started passing out guns to civilians because we thought the 10 were about to break in and rob us, kill us, start a fire. We had no idea.”
The local missionaries said the Haitian people they are staying with are risking their lives to protect them.
Church officials at North Albemarle Baptist in Stanly County told Channel 9 they are keeping in touch with families still in Haiti.
The church took a team of 10 adults and two minors to Haiti, about 45 minutes from Port-au-Prince.
They are stuck because of canceled flights due to violent protests.
Brad Lynch, the church’s pastor, said the group is safe and hopeful to return home by the end of the week. They were supposed to fly back to the States on Saturday.
Lynch said multiple missionaries and groups are stranded due to the civil unrest in Haiti.He said his team is running low on food, clean water and fuel for their generator. The church is working with locals to get supplies to them.
HAITI| “When we heard gun shots we dropped immediately to the ground. Everyone was screaming and crying. People started passing guns to civilians. We thought the 10 men were about to break in and rob us, kill us, and start a fire.” @wsoctv pic.twitter.com/Bv1AwUI1Cc
— Stephanie Tinoco (@STinocoWSOC9) July 9, 2018
NEW| A missionary just sent me this video of what it looks like in Haiti. He says at one point his team had to hide in a tiny room because 10 me with guns were trying to break into the compound they are staying in @wsoctv pic.twitter.com/IAX6762TKj
— Stephanie Tinoco (@STinocoWSOC9) July 9, 2018
The U.S. Embassy in Haiti had issued a “shelter in place” warning for all American visitors but lifted it Tuesday night. They are resuming all operations except visa services.
Updated: The shelter in place directive for Embassy personnel has been lifted as of 6:00pm on July 10. The US Embassy in Haiti will be open for routine & emergency American Citizen Services begins on July 11. The Embassy remains closed for visa services. https://t.co/ilLsGEvSF7
— U.S. Embassy Haiti (@USEmbassyHaiti) July 11, 2018
News reports are slow to come out of the region but several churches are reporting that their teams have either made it home or have made it to the airport and are waiting for transport. Others remain stuck as the U.S. government and missionary organizations work out plans for rescue.
Lynch said his team is safe in an orphanage, but the conditions nearby are horrifying.
“There have been rampant protests in the street, and with that, they have set up barricades in the roads with burning tires,” Lynch said. “There are also civilians who have armed themselves and are standing guard at those barricades charging money for people to pass by, so there’s a real concern about safety.”
A missionary group, Cornerstone Covenant Church, from Caldwell County, is also stranded.
The Haitian airport is open, but it’s unlikely the team will get on their Tuesday flight.
“They literally have tires surrounding the perimeter of the airport currently on fire,” Peek said. “I really love Haiti, but I’m scared for my life.”
American Airlines, JetBlue and Spirit Airlines have canceled flights to Haiti.
More local groups stuck in Haiti
Chapin United Methodist Church in South Carolina posted online that its mission team is safe but stranded. Marcy Kenny is assimilation minister for the church and told The State newspaper that the group is hoping the unrest will abate enough for them to safely make it to the airport.
A North Carolina doctor and his son were part of another medical mission group that’s unable to leave. Shelley Collins tells WRAL-TV that her husband, James, and their son made it to an airport but can’t fly out.
The Haitian government tried to ease tensions by suspending the fuel hike on Saturday but it was apparently only a temporary. They have indicated they will still be moving forward with the tax increase and protests are still raging.
The United States Embassy in Haiti is telling any American in the country who needs help or anyone stateside who knows of stranded friends or relatives to call the embassy.
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