At least 28 people from a Bradenton church are stranded in Haiti after they were blocked while trying to get to the airport on Saturday, when they were due back home.
Woodland Community Church sent 28 people, most of them teenagers in the church's youth group, on a mission trip to Haiti on June 30 to work at a soccer camp for Haitian children. But when they tried to get to the airport for their flight home on Saturday, protests, most of them violent, blocked the streets.
On Friday afternoon, the Haitian government announced a sharp hike in fuel prices, triggering violent protests that have made roads dangerously impassable and forced flight cancellations.
The Bradenton group is staying with a nonprofit called myLIFEspeaks in its facility in the town of Neply, which is about an hour and 30 minutes from the Port-au-Prince airport.
Jill Kramer's 15-year-old daughter, Katie, is one of 19 teens on the trip. There are youth ministers, the minister of the church and a handful of parents with them as well, Kramer said.
Though the group's flight was a 3 p.m. Saturday, Kramer said they left the facility around 4 a.m. to try and get a head start and make it to the airport before the rioting got bad.
The nonprofit is about 30 minutes off the main road, and it was there that they started to encounter the protesters.
Woodland's executive pastor, Dewayne McFarlin, said that for the first three miles things were going smoothly but not even a half a mile on the main road toward Port-au-Prince, they encountered a handful of men who had put large rocks in the road.
"Our bus driver knew one of them and persuaded him to let us pass. They did. Then not even another 1/2 mile (we) met another road block of probably 10 guys. They had put rocks in the road and burning tires beside the road. They asked for money to let us pass," McFarlin said. "We decided that encountering two roadblocks in the first mile would make 25 miles a long and potentially expensive trip so we decided to turn around. Neither of these groups were armed as has been erroneously reported."
Katie called her mother around 5 a.m. to tell her they were turning around and heading back to the village.
"They have food, water, shelter and safety there," Kramer said. "The mission team, the directors they all decided it just wasn't worth it to go farther, and at the same time the airport wasn't operating because they couldn't get workers there or any flights out. So they would've been stranded there anyway."
Check the status of flights to Haiti here.
The facility has also posted social media updates on the group since the protests began.
"We want all of our friends and family to know that we are safe here in our rural village of Neply. Our current team is safe here and will not be traveling out today due to inability to get to the airport," the group wrote Saturday morning. "With the potential of violence surrounding these incidents we are committed to the safety and security of our team, our staff, our community, and the people of Haiti. We ask that you continue to pray for us, the Haitian people who are hurting, and those innocent people caught in the middle of this moment."
The facility posted again on Sunday morning that the team remains safe.
Kramer says that while she is nervous and just wants her daughter home, the adults in the group are keeping the kids calm and in the safest place to wait it out.
"They have really kept the severity of the situation away from the kids which is a blessing to all us parents because if they were stressing it would be so much harder," she said. "They are continuing their mission down and keeping the kids entertained. ... They’re singing, playing games, swimming. It is just normal right now we are so blessed they are keeping it that way."
At least three people have died in the country as a result of the violence, including a police officer and security guard.
Then on Saturday, Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant announced a temporary stop to the price increases to try and calm the situation. Lafontant had originally said the country needed to raise prices to balance the budget but he later bowed to pressure after the protest demonstrations took over the streets. Prices for gasoline were to rise 38 percent, while diesel prices were to go up 47 percent and kerosene 51 percent, the Haitian daily newspaper Le Nouvelliste reported.
While the situation seems to be calming down, U.S. officials told tourists and missionaries to shelter in place, CNN reported Sunday.
"Do not attempt to travel at this time. Avoid protests and any large gathering of people. Do not attempt to drive through roadblocks," a State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs official said to the news organization.
There are no reports of US citizens in Haiti being injured, the embassy said.
McFarlin says the group has return flights booked for Monday and Tuesday but they are waiting to hear if they will be able to get to the airport.
"We are just waiting to see what God has next for us," Pastor McFarlin said. "(It) has been a great time serving this community and building relationships. Honestly some of our students were excited for the extra time here. God is good and we are confident in His plans."
Information from the Associated Press and the Miami Herald contributed to this report.