Across U.S., families, friends await word
MIAMI — Hans Mardy has dialed the numbers hundreds of times, praying someone — his father, his sister, one of four brothers — will pick up the phone.
He waits, passport in pocket, ready to board the next flight to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. He writes frantic text messages. “Are you alive? What happened? Give me a sign of life.”
No one answers.
Across the U.S., which has about 800,000 residents of Haitian descent, Haitian-Americans desperately tried to get word today from relatives and friends in the devastated island nation. Most, like Mardy, heard nothing back.
Some poured their energy into relief efforts, joining Americans with no connection to Haiti who collected bottled water, canned goods, medical supplies and money. Others bowed their heads in prayer or sat transfixed by their televisions.
In Evanston, Ill., Bernard Geto couldn’t hold back tears as he watched CNN at Sweet Nick’s Caribbean restaurant, jumping each time his cell phone rang. In South Bend, Ind., Slandah Dieujuste learned an aunt lost her house but escaped. She could not get information about anyone else.
And as community organizers in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood tried to develop response plans, 29-year-old Katia Saint Fleur scoured Facebook, tears welling in her eyes.
“Please if you can, contact us any way, do so,” she wrote on a cousin’s page. “We are going crazy trying to reach you guys.”
The State Department has established a toll-free number (888-407-4747) for people seeking information about family members in Haiti. The government advises that some callers may receive a recording because of the heavy volume of inquiries.
At the Haitian Consulate in Manhattan, diplomats struggling to locate their own families sobbed as they tried to help countless callers.
“It is indescribable,” said counsel general Felix Augustine.
People did what they could to mobilize aid to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. The U.S. dispatched ships, helicopters, planes and a 2,000-member Marine unit. Cabdrivers transported relief items to collection points, search-and-rescue teams headed to the island to comb through the rubble, and companies prepared to send heavy equipment.
In New York, which has a large Haitian-American population, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged assistance and suggested residents donate money to established organizations rather than try to send supplies like food and water to a place that does not have the infrastructure to distribute them.
“We saw the world come to our aid back on 9/11,” he said, and now New York wants to “make sure that the world comes to the aid of the Haitian people.”
For many still waiting for word, the uncertainty made it difficult to focus on anything else.
“You have no life anymore,” said Anel Calixte, a cab driver sitting with his friend Geto at Sweet Nick’s. “You don’t know what to feel anymore because your whole family there, your whole family.”
Some tried to hold out hope, blaming the lack of contact from relatives on Haiti’s poor communication network, but the uncertainty was crushing. Edeline Clermont of Miami got word that her 12-year-old nephew was dead. The boy’s parents, brother and sister are unaccounted for. And all told, she has more than 20 relatives on the island she has been desperately trying to reach.
“I didn’t sleep at all. I just lay there, waiting for answers,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I’m afraid that everybody is gone.”