As Americans flee Haiti, a 2-year-old boy is separated from his parents

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

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

The son’s evacuation is part of a growing number of hasty, ad hoc departures from Haiti, wracked by a wave of gang violence that has turned parts of the capital Port-au-Prince into a war zone and closed the main airport.

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

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

The U.S. State Department said 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 wracked by violence since a coalition of gangs launched a coordinated offensive against Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s government in late February, raiding police stations and other government buildings, looting hospitals and banks and attacking private homes.

Mr. Henry, who was unable to return to Port-au-Prince after leaving on an official trip and remained in Puerto Rico, agreed to step down once a transitional government was in place. Negotiations over who will be part of that government have moved slowly.

As part of an international plan to stabilize Haiti, a United Nations-approved mission of 1,000 police officers led by Kenya is expected to be deployed to the Caribbean nation after an interim government takes office.

The gangs now control major roads in and out of Port-au-Prince and are blocking access to the seaport, cutting off the supply of food, fuel and water to the city. This week gang members attacked wealthier areas, including the suburb of Pétionville, where many families from abroad live.

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

The State of Florida is planning its own departures, with the Governor. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that the flight that took the Armand family from Haiti to Orlando will likely 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 children and it turned into a nightmare,” he said.

The family members, Mr. Armand said, received last-minute instructions Wednesday morning to go to a dirt field in Pétionville, where the helicopter picked them up.

“It wasn’t easy to find a place to land the helicopter,” said Philippe Armand, Julien’s 75-year-old grandfather, who lives in Miami and used WhatsApp to follow the journey. “It was all secret, like a covert operation.”

On-field logistics were organized with the help of a Florida foundation run by Jack Brewer, a former National Football League player.

“Without him, none of this would have happened,” Mr. Armand said.

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

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

With the closure of Port-au-Prince airport, evacuations have become increasingly dangerous. Trying to reach Cap Haitien requires traveling on roads controlled by gangs who often kidnap drivers and passengers and demand ransoms.

Many Haitians are more urgently calling for the United States to send military reinforcements to Haiti, and some are upset by the focus on evacuating American citizens and diplomatic personnel from other countries.

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