MONTREAL — A Canadian couple who had to leave Haiti due to violent street protests say they’re happy to be heading home but that their hearts are with the people they left behind.
Wade and Marilyn Fitzpatrick are two of 24 missionaries from Alberta-based Haiti Arise who were flown out of the capital Port-au-Prince late Saturday.
In an interview, the Weyburn, Sask.-based couple said the group had to be taken to the airport by helicopter because the roads were blocked by burning tires and protesters armed with rocks and guns.
They said they’re thankful to be safe, but worried about the Haitians who risk dying from a lack of food and water if the roads don’t reopen soon.
"It’s running out, everything is running out," Wade Fitzpatrick said Sunday morning from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"There’s nothing moving on the national highways, so water and food and all those things are just disappearing."
Protesters have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise, spurred by anger about skyrocketing inflation and the government’s failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion-dollar Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to Haiti.
The Fitzpatricks, who have lived in Haiti on and off for the last several years, said they’ve witnessed similar protests in the past, and made sure to stay away.
"If you got close enough to witness it, you’re in quite a bit of trouble," Wade Fitzpatrick said.
The Caribbean nation has been devastated in recent years by a massive 2010 earthquake and by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
But Wade Fitzpatrick said this setback feels different because it’s man-made.
"In a natural disaster, the country comes together, but in this particular spot the country is broken up, and there isn’t the same pulling together to make things better," he said.
The Canadians trapped in Haiti have included missionaries, medical personnel, tourists and students. Many have been slowly making their way to the airport via helicopter or, in some cases, dangerous road journeys.
Some 113 Quebec tourists who had been trapped at a Haitian resort by the protests were also evacuated to the airport by helicopter and were flown to Montreal Saturday night on a chartered commercial flight.
Air Transat also said a group of high school students from Victoriaville, Que., and their chaperones, who had been on a humanitarian trip, were on a flight that was expected to land in Montreal on Sunday evening.
Also travelling home on Sunday were another group of Christian missionaries based out of Montreal, who had been staying in a village some 200 kilometres west of Port-au-Prince.
Michel Bougie, a spokesman for La Bible Parle, said the group had to hire a Florida-based plane service to get its 26 members to the airport after the Canadian government didn’t step in to offer any practical help.
"I think the government was more concerned with the tourists that were staying at the hotel," Bougie said in a phone interview.
In a statement Sunday night, Global Affairs Canada spokeswoman Amy Mills did not directly respond to Bougie’s claims, but said the department stands ready to provide help for Canadians who need it.
"Global Affairs Canada is also working with tour operators to provide consular advice to them as they work to ensure that their clients are able to leave Haiti safely," spokeswoman Amy Mills said in a statement.
"We encourage Canadians who are in Haiti as part of a package vacation to stay in touch with their tour operators as the situation develops.
In this Feb. 7, 2019 photo, thousands of demonstrators march in the street as they chant anti-government slogans during a protest to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise and demanding to know how Petro Caribe funds have been used by the current and past administrations, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)
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