Amid Haiti's spiraling violence, Florida residents worry about family, friends in the island nation

People look for salvageable pieces from burned cars at a mechanic shop that was set on fire during violence by armed gangs in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, March 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

MIAMI (AP) — Florida residents watching the unfolding unrest in Haiti are expressing concerns for family and friends on the Caribbean island nation, saying they are virtually being held prisoners in their own homes because of the ongoing violence.

Cosy Joseph, of Boynton Beach, runs the Gaskov Clerge Foundation, which has worked to provide healthcare, education and sports opportunities in Haiti and the U.S. for more than two decades.

“I’ve never seen Haiti like this,” Joseph said last week while watching events unfold from a distance. "I’ve never seen so much devastation ... I’ve never felt so helpless and hopeless.”

Armed gangs went on a rampage about a month ago in Haiti, launching attacks on prisons, police stations and the country's international airport. They also moved against upscale neighborhoods and other districts in Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince. Scores of people have been killed, and thousands have been left homeless amid the violence that has now brought fears of deepening hunger.

“I have family in Port au Prince who are basically prisoners in their own home,” Joseph said. “They can’t really go out because they they don’t feel safe. I mean, who wants to be in that situation? So it’s heartbreaking for everyone, and I think almost every Haitian, whether you are living outside of Haiti or in Haiti, is impacted by this.”

The U.S. State Department and the Florida Department of Emergency Management have been running chartered evacuation flights to get U.S. citizens safely out of Haiti. More than 200 people have been flown back to Florida since the violence broke out.