As Americans Flee Haiti, 2-Year-Old Is Separated from His Parents

A trip by a Florida couple to the Dominican Republic to attend a wedding turned into days of anxiety after they dropped off their 2-year-old son with relatives in neighboring Haiti and the boy ended up trapped by that country’s worsening upheaval.

After nearly three weeks, the boy, Julien, finally left Haiti and flew back to Florida on Wednesday, where he was reunited with his parents, Philippe-Olivier Armand and his wife, Olivia Turnier.

The evacuation of their son was part of a growing number of hasty and ad hoc departures from Haiti, which has been convulsed by a surge of gang violence that has turned parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, into a war zone and has shut down the main airport.

“It was supposed to be a 48-hour trip and it turned into two and half weeks of uncertainty and stress,” said Mr. Armand, 36, a Haitian businessman who works in finance and insurance and travels between Haiti and his home in Miami. He said they left Julien in Haiti on March 1.

Julien, along with seven cousins and six other relatives, boarded a helicopter in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday morning that flew them about 120 miles north to Cap Haitien, Haiti’s second-largest city. They were met there by a charter plane sent by Florida’s Department of Emergency Management, which took them to Florida.

The U.S. State Department said on Thursday that it had helped 160 Americans leave Haiti since Sunday, some on flights to the United States and others by helicopter to the Dominican Republic.

Haiti’s capital has been consumed by violence since a coalition of gangs launched a coordinated offensive against the government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry in late February, raiding police stations and other government buildings, looting hospitals and banks and attacking private homes.

Mr. Henry, who could not return to Port-au-Prince after leaving on an official trip and has been staying in Puerto Rico, has agreed to step down once a transitional government is established. Negotiations over who will be part of that government have moved slowly.

As part of an international plan to stabilize Haiti, a mission of 1,000 police officers led by Kenya and approved by the United Nations is supposed to deploy to the Caribbean nation after an interim government is in place.

Gangs now control key roads in and out of Port-au-Prince and are blocking access to the seaport, cutting off the city’s supply of food, fuel and water. This week gang members have attacked more affluent areas, including the suburb of Pétionville, where many families from abroad live.

As of Tuesday, about 1,000 Americans had filled out “crisis intake” forms as part of the process to seek a way out of the country, according to the State Department, though officials said evacuations would be dictated by security conditions.

The State of Florida is organizing its own departures, with Gov. Ron DeSantis announcing on Tuesday that the flight that took the Armand family from Haiti to Orlando was likely to be the first of many.

Mr. Armand said the ordeal began when he and several relatives left their children with relatives in Haiti. “All the parents traveled without their kids, and it turned into a nightmare,” he said.

Family members, Mr. Armand said, were given last-minute instructions on Wednesday morning to go to a dirt field in Pétionville, where the helicopter picked them up.

“It was not easy to find a site to land the helicopter,” said Philippe Armand, Julien’s 75-year-old grandfather, who lives in Miami and used WhatsApp to track the trip. “It was hush-hush, like a secret operation.’’

The logistics on the ground were organized with the help of a Florida foundation run by Jack Brewer, a former National Football League player.

“Without him, it would not have happened,” Mr. Armand said.

Americans on flights coordinated by the U.S. government must agree to reimburse the government, though the State Department has said the costs will not exceed the price of a commercial flight between the countries.

Mr. DeSantis said people traveling on the plane that landed in Florida would not be charged.

With Port-au-Prince’s airport closed, evacuations have become increasingly dangerous. Trying to reach Cap Haitien requires traveling on roads controlled by gangs that frequently kidnap drivers and passengers and demand ransoms.

Many Haitians are calling with greater urgency for the United States to send military reinforcements to Haiti, and some are upset by the focus on evacuation of U.S. citizens and diplomatic personnel from other countries.

“Instead of addressing the situation, we are seeing embassies evacuate people,” said Reginald Delva, a Haitian security consultant and former Haitian government minister. “It’s time to focus on the security situation.”