More than 100 Quebec tourists who have been trapped in Haiti in the midst of violent street protests will be flown back to Montreal on Saturday evening, Air Transat confirmed.
Helicopter evacuations began early Saturday morning to take travellers in small groups from a resort hotel on the Caribbean country’s Cote des Arcadins to the airport in the capital of Port-au-Prince.
Transat said the 113 passengers, along with a few people from other airlines, are expected to arrive in Montreal just before 9 p.m.
“Our customers, as well as their loved ones, have lived a challenging and uncertain week,” spokeswoman Annick Guerard said in a statement.
“Since the rise of tensions in Haiti, our teams have been mobilized and working hard to repatriate our customers safely and as quickly as possible.”
The Quebec and Canadian governments helped to co-ordinate the evacuation effort, the company said.
Normand Rosa, one of the guests at the hotel, said Saturday morning that the helicopter evacuations from the hotel were “rolling smoothly.”
Rosa said he was glad Transat had finally given in to pressure to bring the vacationers to the airport, after the company said earlier in the week that logistics and security prevented it from doing so.
He said that while the hotel staff had been accomodating and he’d never felt unsafe, it was time to return home.
“We have plenty food, everything is under control, but maybe in a week or two … so it’s better to evacuate before it deteriorates further,” he said in a phone interview.
Protests demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise have claimed several lives over the past week.
Protesters are angry about skyrocketing inflation and the government’s failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to Haiti.
Other Canadians stuck in Haiti have also been making their way to the airport by way of helicopter flights or harrowing road journeys.
An Ottawa doctor and three health professionals from New Brunswick endured a nerve-wracking seven-and-a-half hour trip that ended with his group hiring an ambulance driver to secure safe passage to the airport on Friday.
Reached Saturday from a stopover in Philadelphia, Dr. Emilio Bazile said he felt lucky to have escaped with only a few bruises from flying rocks that also damaged a vehicle.
He said he felt relieved to have gotten out but also “happy to have been there, despite the fact I almost got killed,” since the experience had allowed his team to treat some 850 people for health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Despite nursing his injuries, Bazile said he’d like to return.
“I think I will go back, but maybe my family will discourage me,” he said.
The Canadian government issued a new advisory for Haiti late Thursday, saying Canadians should avoid all travel to the Caribbean country.
On Saturday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland urged any Canadians remaining in Haiti to contact consular officials if they need help and to consider leaving the country by commercial means.
“To Canadians who are in Haiti: get in touch with us. Let us know where you are, who you are, how to reach you, so we can help,” Freeland said in a phone conference from Munich.
The Canadian government tweeted Saturday that Air Canada would complete a scheduled flight out of Port-au-Prince on Monday, but has cancelled subsequent flights.
Air Transat said that it would continue to operate its regular twice-weekly flights in and out of Haiti until further notice.
With files from Josiane Pelosse and Helen Moka
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press