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The Honolulu Advertiser

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Posted on: Friday, January 15, 2010

Worries mount in Isles for families, country's future

 • Relief trickles in
Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Jean-Dieudonne Joseph of Mō'ili'ili holds photos of his mother, Tina Louis, left, and his brothers. They are all from Carrefour, Haiti. His mother still lives in Carrefour, but she was in New York when the earthquake struck on Tuesday.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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As news trickled in from Haiti yesterday, Haitian and Mō'ili'ili taxi driver Jean-Dieudonne Joseph, 42, assessed the details of the earthquake that devastated his country even as he tried to make sense of the magnitude of those who are suffering.

"We can't begin to comprehend why this has happened," said Joseph, whose aunt's house in Port-au-Prince had been destroyed, a neighbor woman he knew had been killed, and an uncle and a cousin were missing.

"It's like something out of a horror movie."

Because his family lives in Carrefour, the epicenter of the earthquake, Joseph was grateful that his relatives were at the market at the moment the house collapsed.

"I was born there myself, and lived there for 17 years," said Joseph, who eventually came to Hawai'i as an Army soldier.

His mother, who lives in Haiti, happened to be visiting his brothers in New York when the earthquake rattled the ground and brought down the city. He has been in constant contact with her and the family since. He said his brothers had been able to make some contact with friends and relatives in Haiti via cell phone.

"I talk to them every two hours or so, and they give me updates," said Joseph, who was as saddened by the death of the neighbor as he was worried for his uncle and cousin.

Under the circumstances, most of his family appeared to be doing OK.

"I think everybody is staying with neighbors," he said. "Because not all of the houses went down. The one-floor structures are kind of still standing."

Joseph's Haitian friend and former Hawai'i Marine Herby Jean-Felix of Waimānalo had learned that most of his relatives in Haiti, who live outside of Port-au-Prince, had not been harmed in the disaster.

But yesterday the thoughts of Jean-Felix, 49, were consumed by Haiti's fate in the face of so much death and destruction.

"How are we going to rebuild Haiti?" he wondered aloud. "Not just the physical part of building Haiti back, but the people themselves. How are we going to rebuild their minds and their spirits? How are we going to be bettering ourselves?"

For too long, the government of Haiti has waged a campaign to "hinder the ability of the people to elevate themselves," he said.

Jean-Felix has been moved by the outpouring of concern and assistance from people and countries around the world.

"Personally, I'm very grateful to all of the people whether it be the U.S., and China, and Spain, and other countries who have been giving help to Haiti. I am very grateful for that.

"But we as Haitian people, once all this is said and done, what are we going to do? That's the key question. Are we going to return back to the same old way we were? Or are we going to go forward? I want to see my people helping themselves. I want to see my government allowing people to express their opinions without any fear of retaliation."

Another person who was remembering Haiti yesterday was Jennifer Mann of Honolulu. Mann was a Peace Corps worker in Haiti from 2003 until the program pulled up stakes in 2005 because of security concerns.

Mann said it is difficult to imagine the hardship and suffering that's happening in Haiti, one of the world's most impoverished countries even before the earthquake left the capital city in ruins.

"They have nothing," she said. "It's dire poverty in Port-au-Prince to begin with. And then this leaves them with even less than they had before."