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Evacuation from Haiti


WORLD Radio - Evacuation from Haiti

An American missionary family finds it difficult to leave the people and place they love

Soldiers guard the entrance to the international airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Associated Press / Photo by Odelyn Joseph

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, March 21st. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD: Coming next on The World and Everything in It: getting out of Haiti.

About two weeks ago, gangs in Haiti attacked the airport in Port-au-Prince, the capital city, and took much of it. Since then, the Haitian Prime Minister stepped down at the demand of the gangs and others. He says he’ll leave office once he appoints a presidential council.

BROWN: The unrest left many Americans stranded in Haiti, but evacuations began this past weekend. WORLD’s Mary Muncy talked to one of those Americans, and brings us our story.

MARY MUNCY: Shelley Tlucek and her family are missionaries who run a school in Haiti. It’s been closed for about three weeks.

SHELLEY TLUCEK: A big truck was put on the main road, which leads to our subdivision which blocks any form of public transportation or private cars.

But, the Tluceks had no intention of leaving. Besides, after gangs took over the airport they didn’t think they could leave. The State Department has been telling them for the last four years that if anything happens, they wouldn’t be able to get Americans out.

TLUCEK: We have not expected any—any intervention from the U.S. government. We realized that we were here against their advice. But we've never had a time we couldn't fly out of here either.

Then on Thursday during breakfast, they got a call from their son. He also lives in Haiti with his wife and newborn.

TLUCEK: He called and said, “You know what? We’ve heard from somebody that the State Department may be thinking about preparing an evacuation for U.S. citizens.”

Tlucek’s stomach knotted, and she broke down.

She didn’t want to leave, but she and her husband decided that they needed to put it in God’s hands. So, they called their Congressman and registered to be evacuated.

TLUCEK: If the doors open, we will be leaving and if they don’t open then we know that this isn’t God's time for us.

She hoped God wouldn’t open that door.

But two days later, on Saturday, they were invited to join a WhatsApp group called Evac 3/17.

March 17th. The next day.

Tlucek, her husband, and 17-year-old daughter would be leaving with 10 other people via helicopter. All they could take was a light backpack. They didn’t know what would happen to their home or if they’d be back.

They called a meeting with their Haitian employees and said goodbye.

TLUCEK: We want you to know we love you, we are not forgetting you. This doesn't mean we’re not going to see you again. It just means that for this moment, God, God has made a decision that it’s time for us to go.

Tlucek’s husband Byron gathered the evacuees to a hotel near the meeting location. He communicated between them and the evacuation team led by Florida State Representative and veteran Cory Mills.

The team wanted to evacuate everyone under the cover of night. But by midnight there was no place for the helicopter to land. Without it, the evacuation would have to wait. But the team said the Tluceks could try to find a spot.

TLUCEK: And we were sort of thinking, well, this really isn’t our role in this, we are just the gatherers of the people and getting on the helicopter.

So they told everyone the evacuation was off. They would try to regroup in the morning. Tlucek thought maybe this wasn’t actually God’s timing after all. Maybe they could stay.

Then Tlucek got a message from her brother-in-law in the military.

TLUCEK: You need to do whatever Cory Mills tells you to do. He has experience with things like this, if he tells you to do something… you just need to do it.

It was the push they needed.

Byron called the pastor of a nearby church that had a soccer field. They put the pastor and the church’s security team in contact with the evacuation group and by 1:30 in the morning, they let everyone know the evacuation was back on.

They would meet in the lobby at four AM, get in a rented van, and be at the soccer field ready for pick up by five.

Once they left the hotel, they had to go through an intersection by the airport—most of the road was blocked by concrete barriers. The police stopped them.

TLUCEK: Everyone's wanting to do the right thing. And even the police are wanting to do the right thing, I believe, in our area. But there's so many things going on that are not right, that you're, you're trying, you have to be careful, because you don't know who people really are sometimes.

The Tluceks were happy to see a police presence by the airport. The police talked to their driver.

TLUCEK: I think we were probably there two or three minutes. And then they just allowed us to pass on through.

They passed by burnt tires and buildings riddled with bullet holes, but they didn’t see anyone else until they arrived at the church.

Security let them into the compound and they found benches to sit on outside. Everyone’s shoulders relaxed. They’d made it.

The team told them where they needed to be for pick up and then nothing.

5:00, the original meeting time, came and went. Then 6:00. Then 7:00. It was getting close to sunrise.

If the team didn’t come, they would have to drive back through unsafe streets in the daylight.

TLUCEK: You don't actually know everything that's going on on the other side, like, are they still coming?

The Tluceks were the point of contact, but they also didn’t want to be annoying.

TLUCEK: It was probably around 7:30 or so that I think I may have said is everything going okay? We're not complaining. We just want to try to manage expectations, the best way possible.

The evacuation team replied they would be there at 9:15.

TLUCEK: As soon as that came through, you could see, just physically, everybody relaxed, “Okay, everything's fine. They’re still coming.”

Once the helicopter touched down, they would have two minutes to board before they needed to take off again. So they figured out where they would sit and lined up.

The helicopter landed on time, they boarded, and they were finally on their way to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Once there, the Tluceks met up with some friends in the area and other people boarded flights home. The Tluceks booked a flight to Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday. After that, they’ll probably go back to Idaho, but they don’t really know.

TLUCEK: The first 24 hours were really hard for us, like, did we actually make the right decision to get on that helicopter? But you're thinking, maybe someone else should have been on there. Or maybe it still would have been best if we stayed. I don't know how this is all going to play out. But we just have to trust - God put us there and then God took us out. And really we are putting our trust in Him to have us be where we're supposed to be even when it doesn't make sense to us.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Mary Muncy.

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