Haiti

‘This was supposed to be our emergency flight out of here.’ Haiti closes international airport.

Hundreds of U.S.-bound passengers were stranded in Haiti on Tuesday after the smell of smoke closed Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint Louverture International Airport on Tuesday. Domestic flights, which use a different terminal, were not affected.
Hundreds of U.S.-bound passengers were stranded in Haiti on Tuesday after the smell of smoke closed Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint Louverture International Airport on Tuesday. Domestic flights, which use a different terminal, were not affected.

As if things weren’t bad enough in Haiti, where residents woke up Tuesday to find banks, most schools and other businesses closed after a day of tension in Port-au-Prince and other major cities, now international travelers cannot fly out of the country.

Ernst Renaud, the director of operations at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, told the Miami Herald that the airport is closed until 6 a.m. Wednesday after workers were unable to get rid of the smell of smoke due to electrical sparks in the departure lounge.

“We are taking the decision to protect passengers,” Renaud said. He added that domestic flights, which use a different terminal, are not affected.

Asked whether passengers, who had been waiting since 6 a.m. to fly out of Port-au-Prince, had been informed, Renaud said it wasn’t his job but that of the individual airlines to do so. By 12:30 p.m. some still had not done so.

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Hundreds of U.S.-bound passengers were stranded in Haiti after the smell of smoke closed Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint Louverture International Airport on Tuesday. Dara Kay Cohen

Passengers arriving at the airport to take flights out early Tuesday found crime-scene investigators with cameras wearing white coats and blue latex gloves at the airport. As the large crowd formed at the entrance, there was no electricity inside the airport.

“There was every type of police unit you can imagine, and some of them were heavily armed,” said Dara Kay Cohen, a Fort Lauderdale-bound passenger. Cohen, a researcher into gangs and vigilantism at Harvard University, said they didn’t see any firefighters but there were ambulances.

“The only information we’ve been able to find is through our own cellphone,” she said around noon before Cuba-bound passengers were informed in Spanish that the airport was closed.

Cohen, who had spent 10 days in Haiti and wasn’t scheduled to leave until Saturday, said she and a fellow researcher decided to reschedule their departure for Tuesday after crowds marched into Petionville on Monday, throwing rocks, burning cars and setting a business on fire after looting it.

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In protest of the deteriorating situation, which occurred after a senator shot two people, including a journalist, in the yard of the Haitian Senate on Monday, a number of private businesses announced their closure for Tuesday and Wednesday. In a press note, the banking association asked all commercial banks to remain closed to protect their employees.

“This was supposed to be our emergency flight out of here,” Cohen said.

A source told the Herald the problem was an electrical fire in the departure lounge area, which workers were attempting to clean up. However, after hours, the smell persisted.

The website for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City showed JetBlue’s 11:06 a.m. flight from JFK to Port-au-Prince was delayed to 6:43 p.m.

Two outbound JetBlue flights, one from JFK and the other from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, were diverted after takeoff Tuesday morning.

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American Airlines, which reduced its two daily flights to just one a day recently, canceled its 3:55 p.m. flight from Port-au-Prince to Miami International Airport.

“Today our flight to Port-au-Prince was canceled because there was no electricity and all systems are down at the airport due to a fire in the Duty Free area this morning,” said American Airlines spokeswoman Martha Pantin. “Our flight to Cap Haitien is expected to operate early in the afternoon. Scheduled departure from Miami is at 2:15 p.m.”

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Taylor Dolven covers the tourism industry at the Miami Herald, where she aims to tell stories about the people who work in tourism and the people who enjoy it. Previously, she worked at Vice News in Brooklyn, NY, where she won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of NY for a national investigation of police shootings.
Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.
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