For Haitian-Americans, an agonizing wait for news

Miami HeraldJanuary 13, 2010 

On the morning after a devastating quake struck Haiti's capital, Haitian Americans and their fellow South Floridians prayed and mobilized relief efforts as many anxiously sought news of the fate of friends, relatives and co-workers.

School children and their teachers gathered at a special morning Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of St. Mary's in Little Haiti.

"Some of the students were very sad," said Florence Clervil, a sixth-grade teacher, who said she and the children were united by worry for family back in Haiti. "Many of them don't have any news yet."

Clervil said her father, Gabriel Clervil, a commissioner in Aux Coteaux in Les Cayes, was on his way to Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake. She had yet to reach him by either phone or e-mail.

"I have to hope he's OK. We're just waiting to hear," she said.

Clervil was far from alone. With phone and Internet communications either frustratingly inconsistent or cut off entirely by the catastrophe, many South Floridians with connections to the capital didn't know whether loved ones, friends or colleagues were alive, injured or worse.

"At this hour, many of our friends and colleagues in Haiti are missing and unaccounted for and feared dead," said Fernand Amandi, executive vice president of Miami polling firm Bendixen & Associates, which has done extensive work in Haiti for the United Nations mission and the Inter-American Development Bank. The UN headquarters in Port-au-Prince collapsed, trapping many workers.

"I am now hoping for the best, but fearing the worst," Amandi said in a heartfelt statement, urging people to assist Haiti. "Please say a prayer for them and their families and all the families and people of the wonderful, but now-suffering island nation, which is the Haitian Republic."

Meanwhile, government and civil agencies and volunteers began mobilizing for what seems sure to be a massive — and difficult — relief effort.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist rearranged his schedule to head to Miami-Dade County and figure out what the state could do to help — including getting food and water to the disaster area.

"We have a huge warehouse of food and water, cots and blankets in Orlando," Crist said.

Private agencies scrambled to airlift emergency supplies and personnel.

Dr. Art Fournier, a co-founder of Project Medishare, said the Miami-based medical aid group, working with the U.S. Southern Command, is sending surgeons by private jet to Port-au-Prince on Wednesday. The contingent is headed by Dr. Barth Green, co-founder of Medishare and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

Fournier said the Florida Hospital Association is donating equipment and supplies. The Salvation Army of Broward County, which oversees the organization's operations in Haiti, said that its facilities there were severely damaged and some of its officers there were still unaccounted for.

Salvation Army officers in Broward were working to charter a flight to the country with an assistance team aboard.

Agape Flights, based in Venice, Fla., plans to send a relief plane at 6:30 a.m. Thursday, according to volunteer JoAnn Irwin. The organization supplies 400 American missionaries throughout the Caribbean, including dozens in Haiti, with weekly flights.

"Some of our missionaries in Port-au-Prince have responded that they're OK," Irwin said Wednesday morning. "We've got e-mail going out to everybody asking them to respond because we're getting so many calls'' from concerned loved ones in the United States.

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