(AFP) — Crammed into cars, on motorcycles or on foot, thousands of residents on Tuesday fled a gang-ridden district of the Haitian capital, an AFP reporter observed.
“We’re living in an extremely difficult situation,” said Elie Derisca, a resident of the Carrefour-Feuilles district in southern Port-au-Prince.
“I don’t even know where to go. I had to flee my house,” he told AFP.
At least 3,120 people have fled the district, according to an estimate by the Haitian Civil Protection Department and officials say more are likely to follow.
The neighbourhood is regularly attacked by a gang led by Renel Destina, known by his alias Ti Lapli, who is wanted by US authorities for kidnapping American citizens.
“Police officers who live in the area no longer have the means to defend us. As a result, the bandits were able to take over our homes,” said Derisca.
He added that criminals looted and set fire to houses in the neighbourhood and caused several deaths.
Haitian authorities also said that houses in the area had been burnt down and that there had been “loss of human life”, but they gave no specifics.
Chaos was palpable on the streets of Carrefour-Feuilles on Tuesday. Some residents were carrying their suitcases on their heads, while others stacked mattresses and furniture on top of their cars.
Still others sought refuge in public squares and inside schools in safer neighbourhoods, according to images posted on social media.
On Monday, residents in the besieged neighbourhood demonstrated against the security crisis, and the Haitian National Police intervened to restore order in the area.
In a statement, police vowed to counter the gangs, but that offered little assurance to locals who continued fleeing the district Tuesday.
Haiti has been mired for years in intertwining economic, security and political crises.
The assassination of President Jovenel Moise in 2021 has dramatically worsened the situation, with gangs taking an increasingly strong hold.
Criminal gangs now control some 80 per cent of Port-au-Prince, and kidnappings, rape, robbery and murder have become a daily threat.