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Tampa-based Project Dynamo prepares to rescue Americans in Haiti

A man wearing sunglasses holds a flag over his head that reads "Haiti" backwards. A fire burns behind him.
Odelyn Joseph
A demonstrator holds up an Haitian flag during protests demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, March 1, 2024. Tampa's Project Dynamo is preparing to rescue Americans stuck in the country during the unrest.

International search and rescue nonprofit Project Dynamo launched Operation: Rum Runner last week. It’s a mission to rescue stranded Americans in Haiti.

More than two dozen Americans are currently seeking asylum amid escalating gang attacks on prisons and law enforcement in Haiti.

Citing the civil unrest, major U.S. airline carriers have suspended service to Haitian airports after they were breached by gang violence in late February.

The U.S. State Department had also planned voluntary evacuation flights out of the Cap-Haïtien International airport, but the organized gang violence has made evacuation efforts risky for citizens on the island.

The State Department even warned U.S. citizens via social media platform X that they must travel to the airport at their own risk.

A rescue mission by a Tampa-based, veteran-led international search team aims to bring these Americans back to the U.S..

Project Dynamo provides assistance to Americans who have been caught in conflict zones and impacted by disaster. The nonprofit’s founder, Bryan Stern, spoke at a press conference last week while preparing rescue efforts in the Dominican Republic.

Stern said, since Aug. 2021, Project Dynamo has assisted thousands of Americans in Afghanistan, Ukraine, Israel and Gaza.

“We've done 609 missions in just over two and a half years, that turns into almost 7,000 people,” Stern said.

Stern said that the vast majority of organized gang violence is happening in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. He said there are multiple Americans who have requested Project Dynamo’s assistance in evacuating the island.

“We have some missionaries, we have some vacationing people, we have a guy who does communications,” Stern said. “But we don't really care, to be frank, as to who they are or what they do. Other than that they're Americans.”

Stern anticipates multiple visits to the island. His biggest worry is not having enough funding to execute the remaining operations.

“We're going to we're going to have to do multiple rescue operations because there's only so many people who can fit on a helicopter, and most families like to travel together.”

Stern acknowledged diplomatic efforts by the U.S. State Department to evacuate citizens from Haiti, but wishes there were formal guidance for the Americans that remain on the island.

“In my engagement with state, they're frustrated, they don't want to leave Americans behind. They're not excited to abandon the embassy. They're not excited to do an evacuation,” Stern commented.

“But the Americans that are left behind aren't really given any advice. If they got some advice, that would also be helpful.”

The State Department does not plan to provide more evacuation assistance at this time.

Ari Herrera is the WUSF Stephen Noble Digital News intern for spring of 2024.