By: Jennifer Kay
MIAMI— Danglass Gregoire headed to Florida for a business trip last Tuesday, leaving his wife and young daughter behind in Haiti, close to the center of a major earthquake that has devastated the island nation.
When he arrived at Miami International Airport, the 41-year-old said he isn’t sure if they are alive.
“I call. I call. I call. No one answers,” he said.
Haitian-Americans in Miami, New York and other U.S. cities tell the same story of frantically trying to get through to relatives and friends to see if they survived the largest earthquake to hit the Caribbean nation in 200 years. Communications were widely disrupted, making it impossible to get a full picture of damage and casualties as powerful aftershocks shook the desperately poor country where many buildings are flimsy.
“Everyone is in shock right now. No one can get through,” said the Rev. Robes Charles, pastor of St. Clement Church in Wilton Manors, Fla. About 275,000 Haitians live in the South Florida metro area.
The Archdiocese of Miami is accepting donations for earthquake victims. Other South Florida Haitian relief groups have not announced their efforts but planned to meet last Wednesday.
Singer Wyclef Jean, a Haiti native, is asking for donations to his Yele Haiti Foundation via his Twitter site. Jane Cocking, humanitarian director of Oxfam America, an international relief organization, said the group also is ready to respond and is accepting donations.
“Given the desperate needs that people face on a day to day basis, this earthquake is grim news for the poor people of Haiti,” Cocking said in a statement.
Not only are major organizations planning to help. King Moshe, 43, who works at Chef Creole in the Little Haiti area of Miami, said he plans to speak with local groups on Wednesday about collecting food, clothing and money.
“Right now is a time to come together to help the unfortunate ones,” Moshe said.
U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), whose district includes Little Haiti, said some people have been able to get calls from relatives but are seeking his office’s help to find others.
Dozens gathered at the Veye-Yo community center in Little Haiti, where a pastor led them in prayer. Members embraced each other as they tried to reach relatives on the island and took turns discussing what they could do to bring aid to the country.
Tony Jeanthenor, 50, said a friend he reached in Haiti described hearing people cry out for help from under debris.
“Haiti has been through trauma since 2004, from coup d’etat to hurricanes, now earthquakes,” Jeanthenor said.
West Palm Beach firefighter Nate Lasseur tried to reach family and the firefighters he trains in Port-au-Prince.
He was doing training through his International Firefighters Assistance in November 2008 when a school collapsed, killing nearly a hundred people. He described chaos then — firefighters pushing through panicked crowds, digging through the debris with steel rebar. He feared the fire station would be overwhelmed by debris from the capital’s many unsafe buildings clogging the narrow roads.
“They are not prepared as far as equipment and training goes for something of this magnitude,” Lasseur said. “Their adrenaline and pure will to save their families — that only lasts for so long.”