By Angie DiMichele and Austen Erblat for South Florida Sun Sentinel
Over 100 Haitian migrants boarded a homemade boat, attempting to leave a country riddled with gang violence, political turmoil and devastating conditions in the wake of a deadly earthquake.
But at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, the nearly 700-mile trip neared its end on the Atlantic Ocean less than 20 miles away from their destination, the United States.
In total, 104 Haitian migrants were aboard the boat about 17 miles off Miami when officers arrived after someone reported it, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson said.
The passengers were spread from the bow to the stern, many sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, some grasping onto the sails and standing where there wasn’t enough room to sit.
The desperate scene, captured in photos by the Coast Guard, was “heartbreaking,” said Léonie M. Hermantin, director of communications at Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in North Miami.
“Who goes to the bathroom? How do they drink?” Hermantin said. “How do they eat? It’s just horrible.
“When I’m on a cruise ship, I look out at night when it’s pitch black and I try to imagine what it’s like to be on one of these boats.”
The Coast Guard declined to answer further questions about where the trip originated, where those on board were from, the age range of the passengers, or their destination.
The migrants were still aboard two Coast Guard cutters as of Monday afternoon, said Petty Officer Ryan Estrada of the U.S. Coast Guard’s District 7. Continue reading