Detroit author Mitch Albom, 9 others evacuated by helicopter from violence-torn Port-au-Prince


Author and Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom and nine others have been rescued by helicopter from Haiti after becoming stranded in the poverty-stricken and violence-torn Caribbean nation while visiting an orphanage.

The group was forced to shelter inside the Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Albom said Tuesday in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“A group of us from Have Faith Haiti, including my wife and myself, were evacuated overnight from Haiti, where we had been sheltering in place since a state of emergency was declared,” he wrote.

Heavily armed gangs seized power in much of the nation’s capitol following the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise and now control about 80% of the city. Murder, rape and robberies have become commonplace as gang members battle what’s left of the nation’s beleaguered police and military.

Earlier this month, Haiti’s main international airport closed after gangs tried to seize it. Thousands of inmates also were freed when gangs overran two prisons.

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Port-au-Prince has been gripped by a wave of highly coordinated gang attacks on law enforcement and state institutions. Armed groups have burned down police stations and released thousands of inmates from two prisons, in what one gang leader described as an attempt to overthrow Henry’s government.

U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, a Republican from Bruce Township in southeastern Michigan, helped arrange this week’s rescue from the orphanage after being alerted by a constituent to the group’s predicament. McClain contacted U.S. Rep. Cory Mills, a Florida Republican and U.S. Army veteran, who devised a plan to evacuate the group.

The helicopter flew into Haiti, landing about 2:30 a.m. Monday at a location that had been kept secret. Leaving with only the clothing on their backs, the group was flown into the neighboring Dominican Republic.

On Tuesday, McClain told a House Armed Services Committee about the evacuation.

“Last night, I coordinated with Congressman Cory Mills to rescue several Americans trapped in Port-au-Prince,” she said.

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Several minutes earlier, McClain had asked Gen. Laura Richardson, head of the U.S. Southern Command, if the White House or U.S. State Department had made Richardson aware there were Americans trapped in Haiti.

“There possibly were discussions above my level regarding that,” Richardson responded. Richardson later said she didn’t have a request — “not just yet” for “support to bring any Americans” out of Haiti.

McClain did not say during the meeting that the rescue was at an orphanage.

Albom has run the orphanage since an earthquake in 2010 devastated Port-au-Prince.

“I had a responsibility to bring home 8 wonderful volunteers who were working with us,” Albom said in his statement. “But my wife’s and my hearts ache for our kids still there. Saying goodbye to them this time was horribly difficult. We pray for help in making their country safe for them again and we will be back with them the moment it is possible.”

People holding their hands up, trying to flee an area where police are confronting armed gangs; they're approaching an amoured vehicle.
People move away from an area where police confront armed gangs after prominent gang leader Jimmy Cherizier called for Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s government to be toppled, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 29, 2024. (Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters)

“We were luckier than a lot of others. Please don’t forget about them,” he said.

Albom told the Detroit Free Press that 60 children and 40 staff members remain at the orphanage.

Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry on Tuesday announced he will resign, bowing to international pressure to save his homeland. Gang leaders had demanded that Henry step down and that elections be held.

On Sunday, the U.S. military said it had flown in forces to beef up security at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti and allow nonessential personnel to leave. The neighborhood around the embassy in Port-au-Prince has been largely controlled by gangs.

The U.S. State Department has issued a Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory for Haiti.

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