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Dozens of US citizens evacuated Haiti on the first State Department charter flight. Others still await rescue

Dozens of US citizens were evacuated from Haiti on a State Department charter flight Sunday, and many others are waiting to be rescued as the Caribbean nation remains paralyzed by escalating gang violence and political instability that has left bustling streets vacant and necessities like food and gas scarce.

The flight departed from Cap-Haitien, a city on Haiti’s north coast, and landed at Miami International Airport, the State Department said. The department had urged Americans only to consider the flight if they could reach Cap-Haitien safely, as travel to the city was dangerous, it warned earlier in the weekend.

More than 30 US citizens were on board, and government officials are now “assisting with next steps,” a State Department spokesperson said.

A Florida-based nonprofit that has been working to rescue Americans says many more are stranded – and more than 100 people have asked for help getting out.

Among those still trapped is missionary Jill Dolan and her family, who are stuck in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. “Feels like we are sinking in quick sand,” their nonprofit organization wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday. “However, we are grateful to be alive.”

Still stranded is also Boyce Young, a 75-year-old former Marine from Georgia who arrived in Haiti in mid-February to do aid work, his daughter Kim Patterson told CNN. Young is in the country with another American who used to live in Haiti as a missionary, Patterson said.

Patterson did not want to disclose her father’s location out of concern for his safety – but said he is not able to travel by land to Cap-Haitien.

“We have worked tirelessly on efforts to get them out of the country,” Patterson said Monday, adding they have been working to coordinate with international groups to make that happen. “I am hoping we will have him out of the country within the next 24 (hours).”

The crisis in Haiti intensified earlier this month as rival gangs and coalitions began wreaking coordinated havoc, security sources said. In Port-au-Prince – more than 100 miles from Cap-Haitien – the airport shuttered under siege by gangs amid fighting with police in the surrounding area. Gangs now control 80% of Port-au-Prince, according to UN estimates, and are severely limiting supplies of food, fuel and water across the city.

The State Department said it will continue to help US citizens looking to leave Haiti, with a deputy spokesperson calling it a “fluid and quickly evolving situation on the ground.”

“We’ll be in touch with them should additional measures materialize,” Vedant Patel said Monday, adding Haiti now is “one of the most dire humanitarian situations in the world.”

A rescue mission with ‘a plane, a boat and a bus’

Project DYNAMO – a non-profit, veteran-led, donor-funded international search, rescue and aid group based in Tampa, Florida – is conducting evacuations too – and has received more than 100 rescue requests from Americans in Haiti.

“What we find is, every time we rescue one person, that actually turns into three or four or five. That’s usually how it works,” cofounder and CEO Bryan Stern told CNN in a video interview Monday afternoon.

“It is very hard,” he said, adding the group is trying to focus on Americans who are in remote areas where no other rescue resources exist. “We’ve been working day and night.”

Stern was in the neighboring Dominican Republic during the interview, alongside Florida residents Miriam Cinotti and Linotte Joseph, who were in Haiti for missionary work and evacuated by the nonprofit on Sunday.

From left to right: Miriam Cinotti, evacuee from Jacksonville Beach; Bryan Stern, cofounder and CEO of Project DYNAMO; and Linotte Joseph, founder and CEO of Mission of Grace - CNN
From left to right: Miriam Cinotti, evacuee from Jacksonville Beach; Bryan Stern, cofounder and CEO of Project DYNAMO; and Linotte Joseph, founder and CEO of Mission of Grace - CNN

“We took a plane, a boat and a bus,” Stern said, describing the rescue operation. “And we had to walk on the beach for a little bit.”

“It is hard, it is complicated, and it’s even more complicated without any assistance,” he said, adding the group relies on nothing but donations to fund their missions.

“We’ve been working day and night,” he said.

Joseph is a founder of Mission of Grace, an organization that has worked with missionary teams to help Haitians for more than a decade and includes an orphanage, clinic, soup kitchen and an elderly home. Cinotti has been working with the organization since 2010, and travels to Haiti multiple times a year, often for weeks at a time, for mission work.

Both women said they were relieved to have evacuated, but they worry about others, including Dolan, who are trapped amid the violence.

“We’re here, and we’re safe,” Cinotti said. “But on this end, it’s like, you know, it should have been them that came first. Those (are) things that go through your head.”

‘We need people’s help … bad’

Back in Haiti, with danger on virtually every street in Port-au-Prince, Dolan and her family are hiding in a guest house near the closed airport, CNN affiliate WPTV reported. The family also has documented its experience online through its nonprofit, Love A Neighbor, which oversees an orphanage and a family preservation project in rural Haiti.

“We hear a lot of gunfire, generally at night,” Dolan told WPTV. “We hear a lot. Yesterday, there was a whole bunch of it, though, during the day. So, you just never know.”

One of Dolan’s daughters had plans to get married this month in Florida, the affiliate reported. Some people have suggested to the family they try to reach the Dominican Republic border, but the roads are dangerous and filled with gang checkpoints, the station reported.

“We’re just kind of waiting,” Dolan said.

Meanwhile, with its rescue waiting list in the triple digits, Project DYNAMO needs more money for resources, Stern said, adding without funds, his hands are tied.

“We need people’s help, and we need it bad,” he said. “Some of these people are in extremely dire circumstances, and we can do it. I just need help with resources.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

CNN’s Michael Conte and David Williams contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how many Americans Project DYNAMO has rescued from Haiti. The group declined to give an exact number but said it has received more than 100 rescue requests from Americans.

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