BOISE — Idaho has close ties to the situation this week in Haiti where violent protests broke out sparked by a government plan to sharply increase gas taxes.
The demonstrations led to roadblocks, looting and burning buildings and three deaths. It forced the airport to shut down stranding Americans including a team from Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. Dr. Matthew Brown, a pediatrician working in Nampa, is one of those doctors.
“The streets were completely barricaded, and fires were everywhere and large crowds of people demonstrating,” Brown said. “It was unsafe to be on the major roads in Port-au-Prince.”
They were working with Project Haiti, a non-profit dedicated to medical care and education in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
“We were actually down to complete an installation and training on a new digital radiography, or digital X-ray system,” he said.
But two days into the trip, the riots began. The team was forced to evacuate from their hotel after it had been broken into in the middle of the night.
“Our car that we were traveling in at one point was surrounded by a crowd of bandits, and they were trying to get into the car,” Brown said. “Thankfully we had some Haitians with us that helped us out of that mess. That happened a couple of times during the trip.”
With the airport shut down, no flights in or out, the team decided to head to the hospital for shelter. Even the hospital was affected. Brown tells KTVB that they ran out of food, staff worked long hours and people couldn't leave.
“The staff were unable to go home,” he said. “The streets were impassible with barricades and crowds and fires, so they had worked 48 hours straight at one point.”
The team from Saint Alphonsus helped where they could by picking up support staff roles like doing laundry and trying to find food until they could get a flight back home. That chance finally came when American Airlines opened flights late Sunday night, two days after the riots broke out.
“We found out about seats on those flights with very short notice,” he said. “Thankfully they were able to accommodate us.”
But the trip to the airport wasn't easy. The team rode in an ambulance with a gunshot wound victim who was being taken to a surgeon’s office.
“Then made our way through the same protest barricades, driving on the sidewalks, driving over large mounds of rubble and debris, driving through burning barricades even to get to the airport,” he said.
Fortunately, they made it there safely.
"I've been down there 15 plus times and I’ve never felt unsafe until this trip,” Brown said. “It was a rough trip."
Even though this was a rough trip, Brown says he still plans on continuing his work with Project Haiti. Right now he says they are in contact daily with the hospital, and that although things are calming down he believes it's going to be rough for several weeks.