- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2010

MIAMI | Teachers in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood used the simplest terms they could Wednesday to explain the devastating earthquake that rattled the island nation.

Their words were little comfort to students like first-grader Mitchelle Monroe, who said her grandmother recently arrived from Haiti but she did not know the whereabouts of other relatives. She was among about 400 children who prayed during a solemn Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral.

“There was a lot of crying this morning, especially from the older ones,” said the school’s principal, Sister Jane Stoecker. “The younger ones mostly see their parents’ reactions, but the older ones know their parents are desperately trying to get in touch with family in Haiti and only about 1 percent have been able to get through.”

Haitian-Americans in Miami, New York and other U.S. cities told similar stories of frantically trying to reach relatives and friends to see whether they had survived the largest earthquake to hit Haiti 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.

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“Everyone is in shock right now. No one can get through,” said the Rev. Robes Charles, pastor of St. Clement Catholic Church in Wilton Manors, Fla. About 275,00 Haitians live in the South Florida metro area.

Danglass Gregoire, 41, headed to Florida for a business trip on Tuesday, leaving his wife and young daughter behind in Haiti, close to the epicenter of the 7.0 earthquake. When he arrived at Miami International Airport, he said he wasn’t sure whether they were alive.

“I call. I call. I call. No one answers,” he said.

West Palm Beach firefighter Nate Lasseur tried to reach family members and the firefighters he trains in the capital of Port-au-Prince, which has been largely destroyed.

He was doing training through International Firefighters Assistance in November 2008 when a school collapsed, killing nearly 100 people. He described chaos then — firefighters pushing through panicked crowds, digging through the debris.

“They are not prepared as far as equipment and training goes for something of this magnitude,” Mr. Lasseur said. “Their adrenaline and pure will to save their families — that only lasts for so long.”

Others sought ways to get aid to the country.

In New York City, Fernando Mateo, head of the city’s taxi driver federation, said his 60,000 members and the Bodegueros Association, which represents 14,000 grocery owners, were launching Operation Rescue Haiti on Wednesday. They are seeking the help of a major transportation company to deliver the goods.

“We are going to mobilize a few industries to come together and bring supplies, food, medicine, clothing, water — stuff that’s needed immediately,” Mr. Mateo said.

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