US-organized helicopter flights begin carrying Americans from Haiti

Updates throughout with information from spokesperson

WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) - U.S. government-chartered helicopter flights began carrying American citizens from the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince on Wednesday amid rising violence, the State Department said, with a first flight transporting more than 15 people to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

A department spokesperson estimated that more than 30 U.S. citizens a day would be able to depart Haiti on multiple helicopter flights.

Unelected Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced last week that he would resign but a plan supported by Caribbean states and Washington to establish an interim presidential council has yet to be appointed.

Heavily armed groups have taken over much of the capital, and rights advocates have reported widespread killings, kidnappings and sexual violence. More than 360,000 people are internally displaced in Haiti, according to U.N. estimates.

State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said the number of Americans who have filled in an online form asking for information about departing Haiti was approaching 1,600. Not all of those people were requesting help to depart the country and some were inquiring about general safety information, Patel said.

Washington on Sunday organized a charter plane between the city of Cap-Haïtien and Miami, Florida.

"We will also continue to explore operating out of Cap-Haïtien for people to be able to leave from there," the spokesperson said by email.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis; writing by Jasper Ward; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Aurora Ellis)


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