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Haiti extends state of emergency as intruders break into key port terminal

Intruders broke into a major port terminal in Haiti Thursday as violence in the country escalated after the government extended its state of emergency.

The Haitian government decreed the state of emergency would be extended to April 3 in the country’s West Region and the capital Port-au-Prince. A curfew has been extended to March 10.

It comes as Port-au-Prince’s Caribbean Port Services (CPS) terminal, a major player in Haiti’s food import supply chain, was broken into around 8 a.m., two security sources told CNN. The intruders headed to the terminal’s gated warehouse area that houses many containers, the sources said.

The source said the unrest at the port continues.

Video of the port on Thursday showed hundreds of people on the streets around the facility and what appeared to be dozens of people breaking into the gated warehouse. CPS did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

Exclusive satellite imagery from Airbus seen by CNN showed people massing outside of the area and crowds moving in through an opening to the street.

A satellite image shows the aftermath of the port breach in Haiti. - Pléiades Neo/Airbus
A satellite image shows the aftermath of the port breach in Haiti. - Pléiades Neo/Airbus

One Airbus satellite image shows a significant amount of material littering the area of the container port terminal. Another image, taken Wednesday, shows a Haitian National Police MRAP – mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle – on a major roadway.

A security source told CNN that the MRAP was positioned there to prevent G9 gang coalition leader Jimmy Cherizier from expanding attacks and particularly from moving toward the airport road.

A gang blockade can be seen along a major street. - Pléiades Neo/Airbus
A gang blockade can be seen along a major street. - Pléiades Neo/Airbus

Elsewhere in Port-au-Prince, satellite images show blockades – some constructed by local residents and others by gangs – along major streets, closing off entire neighborhoods.

Port-au-Prince has been gripped by a wave of highly coordinated gang attacks on law enforcement and state institutions in what gang leader Cherizier has described as an attempt to overthrow Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s government.

Armed groups have burned down police stations and released thousands of inmates from two prisons, and Cherizier has warned of “a civil war that will end in genocide” if the prime minister does not step down, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The chaos has forced tens of thousands to flee their homes in the past few days, adding to the more than 300,000 already displaced by gang violence.

It is also affecting the distribution of essential supplies by aid organizations. The World Food Programme suspended its maritime transport services in Port-au-Prince from distributing aid across Haiti due to the instability.

A law enforcement officer at a police station set on fire by armed gangs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 5, 2024. - Odelyn Joseph/AP
A law enforcement officer at a police station set on fire by armed gangs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 5, 2024. - Odelyn Joseph/AP

Two dozen trucks of aid, filled with food, medical supplies, and equipment, are stuck at the port in Port-au-Prince, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a Thursday statement.

Maritime routes are the only way to transport aid, especially food and medical supplies for humanitarian and development organizations, from Port-au-Prince to the rest of the country, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary-General and OCHA.

Healthcare system ‘near collapse’

Haiti’s healthcare system is “near collapse,” and many health centers have been forced to reduce their operations due to violence and lack of personnel and medicine, Dujarric said.

Only one public hospital remains operational in Port-au-Prince’s metropolitan area, according to an official at the country’s Civil Protection, and emergency services are severely hampered.

Hôpital Universitaire la Paix has received nearly 70 patients with gunshot wounds since the weekend and several medical centers in the country have been burned down in the past day, the official said.

Doctors in Haiti are desperate for help amid a lack of oxygen and a shortage of water.

“There is no oxygen available, no water neither to service the hospitals because of the shutdown of the pumps to provide water to people,” Ronald Laroche, a doctor who runs a network of private hospitals told CNN. “Most hospitals have closed their doors in the heart of the capital.”

Laroche runs a network of more than 20 medical centers throughout Haiti, two of which have been destroyed by gangs, he said. “They (gangs) turned them into their general quarters. Seven of our medical centers had to close their doors as well to prevent our employees from being kidnapped.”

Haiti’s Civil Protection told CNN that they’ve been “unable” to gather information on civilian injuries and deaths since this latest wave of violence.

Calls for a political transition

The US has been urging Prime Minister Henry to clear the way for a political transition in Haiti, which Haitian officials say could be structured with the initial appointment of a three-member transitional council that would select an interim president to lead the country.

The unelected leader came to power in 2021 with the backing of the United States, Canada and other key allies, following the assassination of former President Jovenel Moise. He promised to hold elections in 2023, but they never transpired, with Henry’s administration citing the country’s insecurity as a major obstacle.

Henry has had difficulty returning to the country this week. His plane was diverted to the US territory of Puerto Rico after the Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti, refused to let it land.

When the violence broke out last Friday, Henry was in Kenya to sign an agreement for a Kenyan-led multinational mission to restore security in the Caribbean nation.

Nearby nations have been securing their borders following the outbreak of violence. A maritime blockade was established in the southeastern Bahamas amid fears of mass migration from Haiti, Commodore Raymond King of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF), said at a press conference on Thursday.

King said officials are particularly concerned about the jailbreaks, fearing the prison escapees will try to flee Haiti by boat.

While security has deteriorated in recent months, Haiti has for years suffered chronic violence, political crisis and drought, leaving some 5.5 million Haitians – about half the population – in need of humanitarian assistance.

More than 40% of deaths in the impoverished neighborhood of Cité Soleil in the Haitian capital have been caused by violence, according to a survey conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) that studied the period between July 25 and August 24, 2023. MSF said the mortality rate is comparable to those seen during exceptionally violent periods in Syria and Myanmar.

CNN’s Jim Rogers and Patrick Oppmann contributed to this report.

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