Caught in Port-au-Prince, Haitian-Americans feel pull of divided families

The small airport at Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is bustling with Haitian-Americans trying to get home. While their hearts are broken for Haitian relatives, they have family and jobs in the United States.

Alfred de Montesquiou/AP
U.S. citizens wave their American passports to get past a U.S. military cordon deployed outside the international airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Friday.

Three days after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck, the small airport in Port-au-Prince remains shuttered to commercial flights. But you’d never know it from the tumult at its entrance.

As military planes and international relief organizations from around the globe rushed to bring in relief teams and supplies, another group was desperate to get out: Haitian-Americans.

They line up in queues on the runway waiting for evacuation flights. Most of them have been standing all day. “I need to get out,” says Mary Girodier, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was in Haiti visiting her sister for the holidays.

Her family’s home is now gone. “We’ve been sleeping in the street, and I need to get home to my son,” she says.

Hailing from Portland, Ore., New York, N.Y., West Palm Beach, Fla. – they say their hearts are broken for their families in Haiti, but they have families in the US, and jobs as welders and home care workers and grocers. “I just need to get back,” says Debel Andre, who is a welder in Portland, Ore.

And he will. But not all are as fortunate. Outside the airport, those who had been on scheduled commercial flights try to push their way through the entrance, yelling at guards at the door and each other. For a flash, it is a scene, like so many others in this city right now, that could tip at any moment.

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