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Montreal-based nurse stranded in Haiti ‘relieved’ to be back in Canada

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Montreal-based nurse stranded in Haiti ‘relieved’ to be returning to Canada
WATCH: Montreal-based nurse stranded in Haiti ‘relieved’ to be returning to Canada – Feb 18, 2019

A Montreal-based nurse, who was in Haiti on a humanitarian mission is finally back home on Monday.

Katherine O’Neil was in the Caribbean country with Hope Grows, a Peterborough-based non-profit organization that provides medical, educational, nutritional and housing assistance to Haitians living in the Grand Goâve region.

Haiti has been gripped by political violence and unrest in recent weeks, as demonstrators call for the resignation of President Jovenal Moïse over skyrocketing inflation and a scandal over oil imports.

READ MORE: Haiti vows to investigate controversial oil deal and reduce expenses amid violent protests

Roadblocks manned by protesters made travelling by land from the organization’s compound on the island’s west coast, to the airport in Port-au-Prince Port-au-Prince — approximately 65 km east of their charity — too dangerous.

WATCH BELOW: Montreal-based nurse stranded in Haiti ‘relieved’ to be back in Canada

Click to play video: 'Montreal-based nurse stranded in Haiti ‘relieved’ to be back in Canada'
Montreal-based nurse stranded in Haiti ‘relieved’ to be back in Canada

So the group started a successful GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to charter a helicopter to take them to the airport on Monday.

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READ MORE: GoFundMe to helicopter stranded Canadian nurses to Haiti airport beats goal by over $7,000

Global News spoke to O’Neil just as she was getting ready to board her flight home.

“We’re looking so forward to getting home to our families and friends, back to our lives in Canada,” she said. It was a sentiment she reiterated once back in Montreal.

And while she was ecstatic to be heading home, O’Neil says she feels let down by the lack of effort and communications the Canadian Embassy and Global Affairs Canada had with them throughout their ordeal.

READ MORE: Concern growing for Quebecers in Haiti as violent protests continue

O’Neil explained they were given two numbers to contact wardens. One number was disconnected, she said, and in the case of the second number, the person on the line didn’t know what they were talking about.

“We felt very disappointed by the role the embassy played, by Global Affairs,” she said. “We had to make arrangements for ourselves.”

WATCH: Trio of Maritime medical professionals share their harrowing escape from Haiti

Click to play video: 'Trio of Maritime medical professionals share their harrowing escape from Haiti'
Trio of Maritime medical professionals share their harrowing escape from Haiti

Those arrangements included finding transportation, as well as having to ration food and supplies on the compound.

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Global Affairs Canada told Global News in a statement they are in close contact with the group of Canadians who are trapped in Haiti and have provided consular assistance and advice as required, including by liaising with airlines and tour operators.

“Canadian diplomats have assisted hundreds of Canadians leave Haiti via commercial means over the past weekend and we continue to support those requiring assistance.” the statement reads.

Global Affairs says that since Feb. 11, “officials in the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa have managed 551 enquiries from Canadian citizens.”

There are currently 2,407 Canadian registered in Haiti, but Global Affairs said the number of Canadians on the ground could be higher as registration is voluntary.

READ MORE: Haitian Montrealers ‘sad’ and ‘scared’ for people in Haiti

O’Neil said getting out of the compound on Monday morning was quite the affair and likened it to an episode of Gilligan’s Island. She explained they used various methods to help the   helicopter pilot pinpoint their exact location.

“We just  built a little brush fire to create some smoke and we ran out into the field with sheets and pillowcases, waving them like flags,” she said. “We had the Canadian flag out in the lawn and we just did everything we could to get his attention.”

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Their efforts were soon rewarded.

Nurses with Hope Grows chartered a helicopter to take them to the airport in Port-au Prince. Monday. Feb. 18, 2019. Courtesy Tracey Hotta. Courtesy Tracey Hotta

“We were so relieved when we got onto that helicopter that we couldn’t stop smiling,” she said, adding that despite her own joy, the moment was bittersweet.

“Our hearts are left behind in Haiti with the people we call friends now,” she said. “You can’t even imagine the circumstances they’re living under and it breaks my heart to think that it may be a long time coming before aid workers may be able to get in there again.”

O’Neil also expressed concern for the founders of Hope Grows who remained on site due to a lack of room on the helicopter. They are expected to make there way out of Haiti on Tuesday.

WATCH: Hope Grows Haiti founders trying to come home

Click to play video: 'Hope Grows Haiti founders trying to come home'
Hope Grows Haiti founders trying to come home

While O’Neil lamented the lack of support from Canadian officials, a surprise encounter at the airport in Haiti gave O’Neil hope for the future.

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“Standing in line, waiting to board, I met somebody from the Canadian Embassy,” she said, adding he told her they wanted to hear their stories to learn what to do differently going forward.

“We were happy,” she said of the chance meeting. “They are willing to learn from experience and to embrace change.”

Global Affairs Canada invites Canadians in Haiti who require consular assistance, or are seeking information on family or loved ones, to contact the 24-hour Emergency Watch and Response Centre (EWRC) at 1 613 996 8885 or by email at sos@international.gc.ca.

— With files from Global’s Gloria Henriquez

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