BROOKLYN, N.Y.-When Haitians living in America call their loved ones back home to learn of their safety, there is sometimes a flash of contact-a mere minute or so-before the line goes dead. They keep calling back, however, hoping for another brief connection, but most of the time the lines to their loved ones remain silent.
"We keep on trying because you never know when the power will be restored," said Joseph Dormeus, executive director of the Bedford Haitian Community Center in Brooklyn. He has been trying to contact his friends and family in Haiti since yesterday but has not heard from anyone: "The city is completely in the dark."
Although the 7.3-magnitude earthquake has swallowed up their friends and families' houses and hospitals, many Haitian-Americans know only what the rest of America knows-the news on websites and television, which tells them that up to 500,000 people may be dead and up to 3 million Haitians may have been affected by the disaster.
The quake is the most severe the area has seen in 200 years, so the devastation goes beyond what any of the Haitian-Americans have ever seen, even the ones who survived Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Dormeus said that other disasters in Haiti have never reached this magnitude, mainly because the earthquake's epicenter was only 10 miles from the capitol, Port-au-Prince. During the hurricane, Port-au-Prince lent aid to the countryside, but now city's hospitals and government buildings have collapsed, and the impoverished countryside is unable to reciprocate.
At St. Jerome church in Brooklyn, Marie LaRouche, who has not been able to reach relatives who live in or near Port-au-Prince, prayed for her family and victims of the disaster. "My aunt is the only aunt I have left there," she told the Associated Press. "We are still recovering from a hurricane. We can only leave it in the hands of God."
Relief organizations around the world are collecting food and donations and sending volunteers for relief efforts, which is something Haitian-Americans believe they can contribute to. "A lot of people call me and say, 'What are you going to do and how can we do it?'" said Dormeus. His center is collecting food and clothing and hopes to fill a container of donations, which they will then take to Haiti. Dormeus said to minimize the cost of transporting the container, they will go whenever they can get enough donations to fill it. People have promised donations but so far, the small office is empty. "I hope it will not take long," said Dormeus.
Other Haitian-Americans would like to return to Haiti themselves to find their loved ones and provide assistance, but Dormeus said it was impossible since the airlines have suspended flights to Haiti. Dormeus said there is "anxiety-a lot of anxiety, frustration. They don't know where their relatives are; they don't what they are doing, if they are alive."
Down the street in Brooklyn, Gerard Previl, a Haitian-American who has lived in United States since 1965 and no longer has family in Haiti, said it is time for the country to decide what they are going to do for long-term survival: "Time to teach people to plant the tree. . . . You have to put iron in the house to hold the house. The tree holds the land."
Previl is right that erosion and deforestation has worsened the effects of the earthquake. The slums that are built on the sides of hills are sliding away with the earthquake's landslides. Previl, a frail older man, expresses the fear that must be on most Haitian-Americans' minds: "If I were in Haiti, I'd die."
'Still in shock' | Haiti is hit by a massive earthquake followed by aftershocks, with an epicenter near the capital, Port-au-Prince | Mindy Belz and Jamie Dean | Jan. 12, 2010
Helping Haiti | WORLD provides a list of relief organizations accepting donations to assist earthquake victims in Haiti | The Editors | Jan. 13, 2010
Search and rescue | U.S. disaster experts, the U.S. military, and private relief groups head to earthquake-devastated Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 13, 2010
Weeping and waiting | Haitian earthquake victims await help, but obstacles slow relief efforts | Jamie Dean | Jan. 14, 2010
Desperation | Too many Haitians are in a holding pattern awaiting aid, as relief organizations try to make progress | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Long night | With tens of thousands of casualties, Haitians weep and wait for morning | Jamie Dean | Jan. 15, 2010
Deliverance | A group of orphans arrive safely in Pittsburgh while relief organizations report progress in Haiti | Mindy Belz | Jan. 19, 2010
Crying for help | Hard-pressed Haitians seek assistance as aid groups face logistical challenges | Jamie Dean | Jan. 21, 2010
Leaving Port | Beyond the capital city are rural communities equally devastated by the quake and in need of help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
The new normal | As life and death continue their morbid mingling, relief groups forge ahead to help | Jamie Dean | Jan. 22, 2010
Finding home | Now that search-and-rescue efforts have been called off, attention turns to providing shelter for survivors | Jamie Dean | Jan. 23, 2010
Chaotic aid | Relief groups attempt to help Haitians despite murky rules, government interference, and the lack of a cohesive plan | Jamie Dean | Jan. 28, 2010
Aftershock | Caregivers predict a second wave of death, as Haitians find moments of deliverance amid days of devastation from one of the modern world's worst natural disasters | Jamie Dean | Jan. 29, 2010
Homecoming | For Haitians orphaned before the quake, it means leaving home and starting over | Alisa Harris | Jan. 29, 2010
Crisis giving | Instant need calls for long-term strategy | Rusty Leonard | Jan. 29, 2010
An indecent grief | First lamentations, then comfort that strengthens more than soothes | Mindy Belz | Jan. 29, 2010
Hope for Haiti? (audio file) | Hear WORLD news editor Jamie Dean discuss her visit to the earthquake-ravaged country | Nick Eicher | Feb. 1, 2010
Despair and salvation | While the UN grapples with unruly crowds, The Salvation Army peacefully distributes food | Jamie Dean | Feb. 2, 2010
Crossing lines | Failing to heed sound advice, 10 Americans now find themselves facing kidnapping charges in Haiti | Jamie Dean | Feb. 4, 2010
Haiti's plight (audio file) | A discussion of the country's days of devastation and moments of deliverance | Jamie Dean | Feb. 5, 2010
Stress management | Helping Haitians recover takes zeal-with wisdom | Jamie Dean | Feb. 12, 2010
Taking charge | In quake aftermath, build new cities, says Haitian ambassador (and Bible translator) Raymond Joseph | Mindy Belz | Feb. 12, 2010
Houses of God | Grand-Goave, Haiti | The Editors | Feb. 12, 2010
Living water | Water Missions International offers long-term solutions for clean, drinkable water | Angela Lu | Feb. 13, 2010
Building blocks | While Christian Aid Ministries provides for the immediate needs of quake victims, it looks ahead to helping the country rebuild | Angela Lu | Feb. 16, 2010
Close quarters | ActionAid helps homeless Haitians deal with sanitation and security issues at camps set up in Port-au-Prince | Angela Lu | Feb. 23, 2010
Hardest hit | With nearly half a million orphaned children before the quake, Haiti's challenge to parent them just got bigger | Jamie Dean | Feb. 26, 2010
The search for miracles | Port-au-Prince is a city desperately seeking turnaround-and that's before the earthquake | Jamie Dean | March 12, 2010
Hope in the darkness | World Hope International offers Haitians practical assistance and spiritual guidance | Angela Lu | March 24, 2010
Night crawlers | A new disaster threatens defenseless women and children in Haitian tent cities: rape | Jamie Dean | March 25, 2010
Homecoming | Missionary Patrick Lataillade, who nearly died in the quake, returned to help Haitians this week | Angela Lu | March 27, 2010
Hashing out Haiti | As the UN makes recovery plans, Haitians struggle for the basic necessities for survival | Jamie Dean | March 31, 2010