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Gang attacks at Haiti airport damages jetliners; airlines cancel flights from South Florida

Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

Gang attacks near Haiti’s international and domestic airports in the capital left a police officer wounded and jetliners shot up on the tarmac Thursday, prompting two U.S.-based airlines to cancel flights out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

The violence, which also targeted police facilities and an auto dealership housing the Jamaican consulate, started early in the morning with an armed gang knocking down the perimeter wall of the Haiti National Police Academy not far from the U.S. embassy in metropolitan Port-au-Prince. By mid-morning, the attacks had spread and shots were fired just north of the airports.

At least one person, a Haiti National Police officer, was shot during an exchange of gunfire between gang members and police trying to quell the violence. The officer was taken to the hospital, an airport employee told the Miami Herald.

At the time of the shooting, a New York-bound JetBlue Airways flight was preparing to take off from Toussaint Louverture International Airport. Though the airliner managed to depart unscathed, both Spirit Airlines and American Airlines canceled their flights out of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airports into Port-au-Prince.

American “suspended daily service” between MIA and Port-au-Prince “as a result of civil unrest,” spokeswoman Laura Masvidal told the Miami Herald. “We will continue to monitor the situation with safety and security top of mind and will adjust our operation as needed.”

Spirit Airlines did not respond to the Herald’s request for comment. A carrier based in Haiti, Sunrise Airways, confirmed that it too had canceled flights after “some of our airplanes were hit by stray bullets,” spokeswoman Stéphanie Armand said in an email.

 

One of those planes was a Havana-bound Sunrise Airways Airbus 320, which was hit while parked at the international terminal. A video showed a worker inspecting the damage on the belly near the jet’s tail.

“Following exchanges of fire which took place today near the Rita crossroads, endangering users of the Guy Malary terminal and causing damage to some aircraft, Sunrise Airways has decided to suspend all flights until further notice, to ensure the safety of passengers, ground crews, and aircraft,” Sunrise Airways said in a statement.

A bullet also pierced a window and a chair at the Guy Malary domestic airport, leading to flights being held back until the shooting stopped. Both domestic flights and U.N. helicopter flights take off from that airport.

The Sun Auto Car Dealership, where the Jamaican consulate is located east of the capital, in an area controlled by gang leader Vitel’homme Innocent, was also hit. Last June, an attack on the dealership forced the Jamaican government to suspend consular services in Haiti. The amount of damage this time remains unknown because police still not get to the facility Thursday afternoon. The gangs also attacked a police substation at Portal Léogâne, at the southern edge of the capital, where several vehicles were torched.

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