Investing 14-03-2024 06:00 6 Views

Congressman helps airlift author Mitch Albom, 9 others out of Haiti

Author Mitch Albom, who runs an orphanage in Haiti, said he was among 10 people rescued from the violence-ridden nation early Tuesday morning by a U.S. congressman who has led similar evacuation missions in Afghanistan and Israel.

Albom, who wrote “Tuesdays with Morrie” and “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” said in a statement on Tuesday that he, his wife and eight others volunteering for Have Faith Haiti had been sheltering in place before Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.) orchestrated a rescue mission, working in tandem with Rep. Lisa C. McClain (R-Mich.).

The evacuation of the eight Americans, one Canadian and one French volunteer comes as Haiti is teetering on the brink of collapse. Its prime minister said he would resign Monday, and flights have been suspended into the capital after armed gangs attacked an international airport.

McClain told The Washington Post she found out about the stranded group from a constituent who called her Saturday. She soon asked Mills for help.

The initial plan, she said, was to evacuate the group early Monday morning once Mills obtained a helicopter and found a pilot to fly it. But a maintenance problem in that helicopter led them to delay the evacuation by a day and required Mills to find a second one, McClain said.

Gangs had burned down the police station near an airport on March 4 and later looted Port-au-Prince’s main shipping port, suspending operations at both and making it difficult to reach the Haitian capital.

That made landing the helicopter complicated, McClain said. She said she was in frequent contact with Albom, who helped find the best landing spot through his local connections. She declined to go into more detail, saying she didn’t want to endanger anyone still in Haiti, including additional Americans who could need rescuing.

It was not immediately clear how Mills, who appeared to take part in the rescue mission, found two helicopters and a team to fly on such short notice.

“He runs with a different crowd than you and I,” McClain said, pointing to the congressman’s nearly decade-long military service, which included deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mills did not respond to questions about how he orchestrated the helicopter trip. In earlier rescue efforts, he has said he worked with two nonprofits, Mercury One and the Tzedek Association, to facilitate the missions. Both organizations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In a Fox News interview Wednesday, Mills did not provide further explanation but instead criticized the Biden administration for not rescuing the group itself.

Albom said in a statement posted on social media that he and his wife had been staying inside since a state of emergency was declared earlier this month after gangs spearheaded a mass prison break and demanded Prime Minister Ariel Henry resign. As Henry announced his resignation on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a meeting in Jamaica that the U.S. would contribute $33 million in humanitarian aid and $300 million to the Multinational Security Support Mission, which sends personnel, equipment and financial and logistical resources to Haiti from various countries.

Albom, who lives in McClain’s district, said Tuesday he was back on American soil but that many other volunteers remained trapped in Haiti.

“We were luckier than a lot of others,” Albom’s statement said. “Please don’t forget about them.”

On his radio show Wednesday, Albom recounted that he had tried to find a helicopter on his own, but it wasn’t until he spoke with a Detroit radio station last week that his friends in Michigan learned about his situation. Albom said his friends contacted McClain, who had not met Albom but called him to arrange the mission.

“We knew, quite frankly, that we weren’t going to get out if we were waiting for the government to help us,” Albom said.

McClain described the mission during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, including how she had asked Mills to help rescue multiple Americans in Port-au-Prince after learning about Albom’s situation.

Mills, who works with humanitarian organizations, provided Fox News with footage that he said was the helicopter rescue. The Army veteran told Florida Politics in 2021 that he rescued four Americans from Afghanistan after Kabul fell to the Taliban, and his office said that Mills helped rescue 255 Americans from Israel after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack.

“If Americans are abroad and in trouble, I will continue to come to their aid,” Mills wrote in a social media post Wednesday with a video of the Fox interview.

At the hearing, McClain questioned defense leaders about what was being done to help Americans trapped in Haiti before criticizing the Biden administration.

Since July 2023, the State Department has advised most Americans to avoid traveling to Haiti. A spokesperson for the department declined to say whether the agency communicated with McClain this week but said there is “no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas.”

“We are always relieved to learn that U.S. citizens are safe,” the statement said. “That said, the security situation in Haiti is very uncertain and initiatives like this are risky and can put people in harm’s way.”

In the interview with The Post, McClain said her office received about a dozen calls since the Tuesday evacuation asking for similar rescue missions of more Americans trapped in Haiti.

Albom wrote on social media that leaving the children at the orphanage, which he has run since 2010, “was horribly difficult,” adding that he will return “the moment it is possible.”

Laura Wagner contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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