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by Connor Raborn reporter@hammondstar.com

The plane arrived an hour and a half late at the Port-au-Prince airport Wednesday afternoon, but the team of five missionaries from Tangipahoa Parish had been waiting for it since Friday.

Two and a half hours after boarding, Missions Pastor Jim Grega, Richard Drude and Lee, Tim, and Josh Barends of The Mission Church in Hammond landed safely in Miami around 7:30 p.m. EDT. Once there, the team ran to make their connecting flight to New Orleans, which was ultimately delayed, Grega said.

As of early evening Wednesday, the team was waiting on the flight and planning to be in Louisiana later that night or early this morning.

The missionaries arrived in the Haitian capital Friday night after a week of ministry in Jeremie, Haiti. That's the same night that tires were lit aflame to block roads and gunshots sounded in the streets, marking the beginning of riots in Port-au-Prince and the mission team's extended stay in their fortified hotel.

The violent protests, which have resulted in at least three deaths and continued into Wednesday night, began in response to the Haitian government's announcement of increases from 38 to 51 percent in various fuel prices. Haitian Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant called off the price increases Saturday in the wake of the riots.

After four days of waiting for a safe and clear path to the airport, Grega, Drude and the Barends were waiting in line to board a plane to Miami around 5 p.m. EDT Wednesday. Soon after, Drude called his father, Jake Drude, confirming the group had successfully boarded and were waiting for takeoff.

"We're keeping him in our prayers that he'll be safe," Jake Drude said. "We just need to keep everything in our prayers."

He and his wife had been keeping in touch with Richard during his time stuck in the hotel.

Those four days were mostly filled with preparing defense and escape plans and passing the time, Grega said Tuesday. Representatives from the U.N. sheltered at the hotel for part of the time and helped the group prepare themselves, and they later communicated road closure, airport and riot updates to the hotel guests.

The group did not have to use any of their defensive strategies as no attempts to breach the hotel were made by looting groups. Despite being told to expect more riots in the area Wednesday, the five residents of Hammond and Ponchatoula encountered no problems getting to the airport Wednesday, Grega said.

"We made it from our hotel through customs," he said. "It took us one hour and 45 minutes from our hotel to the waiting room."

This was actually about 15 minutes less than it usually takes, he added.

Grega heard after their arrival at the airport that protesting had started again, and his team was not sighing with relief just yet.

"We'll be more relieved when we land in Miami," Grega said as he waited in line. "We're ready to be in the U.S."

Grega will regroup after getting home. His plans to take another team to Haiti near the end of the month will have to be re-evaluated, he said. A U.N. representative told Grega the travel advisory for Haiti is currently level 4: do not travel.