Monday, January 18, 2010

Fleeing Haiti

 Scene: Cap Haitien Airport (image below)

Thursday, shortly after writing our last post, HBHH decided to pull Jack and I out of Haiti. They booked plane tickets for us to fly out of Cap Haitien on Saturday (the 16th).

So much has happened since then--reconciling ourselves to leaving Haiti, saying goodbye to all our friends in Ste. Suzanne, giving away all our food, packing yet again, closing up the house, and then flying out of Haiti. We'll have to write about all that in another post.

The calm we experienced Thursday in Cap Haitien had evaporated by Saturday. All Haitian banks are centered in Port au Prince; consequently, banks throughout the rest of the country have been closed since Tuesday. No one is able to access their accounts. Unless you have cash on hand, you have nothing.

Word in Cap Haitien was that President Preval is insane. He has yet to address the country.

A severe gas shortage was developing as well.  Thursday we filled up the truck on our way back to Ste Suzanne without trouble. Saturday all the gas stations were mobbed with vehicles of all types, motorcycles, and crowds of people with empty gas cans and plastic containers. As Fr. Medenel drove us to the airport, he worried about getting gas for the return trip to Ste Suzanne.

We arrived at the airport by noon and everything looked good for our three o'clock flight on Lynx Air/ FCA. Everything was on time, our bags were checked, we had our boarding passes. It would be a full flight, since the airport had been closed the day before while the US took over air control in Haiti.

As we waited with the other groups of Haitians and Americans waiting to leave for the US, we discovered that the flight to Fort Lauderdale had been canceled on Thursday as well. However, HBHH was on the phone with Lynx headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale and everything was still a go. At three o'clock the plane hadn't arrived. At four o'clock the airport lost power and immigration officers left. At five o'clock the flight was canceled.

Our international cell phone hadn't worked all day except for text messages. We were unable to reach our friends in Cap Haitien and Ste Suzanne. Another American couple found a taxi and asked us if we wanted to share it to the Hotel Christophe. We did. Aside from being massively overcharged, the ride was fine. We passed gas stations more packed than before and asked our driver how he fueled his car. He brought back his gas from the Dominican Republic.

Mercifully we had enough cash for the hotel. We arrived half an hour before the other Americans who were barely able to scrape together enough money to stay the night. Some of them had been going through this routine for days.

The next morning we headed to the airport early, having heard a rumor of an unannounced early flight. The hotel graciously agreed to find us a taxi, but the people they called were unable to help since they had run out of gas. The receptionist found a taxi outside the hotel--an tattered Toyota Corolla. We squeezed in the back along with all our bags and the driver's brother. The driver's two buddies shared the front passenger seat. The brother had been waiting by a gas station hoping to fill a plastic barrel without success. Ten minutes from the airport, the car died in the middle of a muddy hole. They popped the hood, fiddle around, and manage to get it running again.

We arrived at the airport before nine, determined to camp out there as long as it took to get on a flight.  Half of the group from Saturday was already there waiting. They had been told that they would fly out at ten a.m. but to keep it quiet from other passengers. The rest of us would fly out at two p.m. By ten o'clock there was no plane and still no airline employees. A few of us tracked them down a few buildings over. They told us that there was only one flight after all. It would leave at one o'clock and there were only eleven seats available. After three days of canceled flight, far more than eleven passengers had tickets for Ft. Lauderdale. Jack and I were certainly not highest priority.

An inter-island airline, Air Turks and Caicos, had a flight to Caicos at 11:30. At 11:15 HBHH texted us to "get out however you can." We managed to buy two tickets, with the last of our cash, and recheck our bags just in time. Six other Americans were already boarding, two others tried to buy tickets but didn't have enough cash.

Half an hour later we were in Caicos. Two hours later we were on a US Airways jet to Charlotte.

This morning I called Lynx offices to check if the flight had ever left for Fort Lauderdale yesterday. It had not; indeed, a plane never arrived in Haiti and those who waited for it yesterday are still waiting. Lynx claimed that the flight would leave today at two p.m.

I just got off the phone with the airline again. The plane has still not arrived in Cap Haitien; now they say it will leave Haiti at 5:15. 

I hope that this is true.



  1. Sounds like you had a narrow escape through an ever narrowing window!! Glad you are home. Hearts and Prayers with everyone still in Haiti.

    Dad K

  2. By the way - how come I always have to post as Anonymous? I try to put in my name and email address but it doesn't work. Says that the URL is not proper... Help!

    Dad K

  3. thank goodness it worked out for you guys, i can't imagine how stressful that must have been for you guys, give sukey a hug for me, and i'll be home in like two weeks, hopefully you'll be there!

  4. I so hope you have been keeping a journal of some type - thought this blog certainly stands in good stead if not - because no one (!) will be able to match this "guess what happened in our first year of marriage story". This humor is only possible, of course, because of the outcome. No way for people to replenish cash, dwindling gas and no sense of the presence of a national government - it certainly has systemic failure written all over it from my perspective. Congratulations on your resourcefulness!!