While some Connecticut residents struggled all day Wednesday for news from their friends and family in Haiti after that country's devastating earthquake, many local organizations and individuals came together to decide what to do next.
Maryse Adonis, a Haitian-born woman who lives in Wethersfield, founded one of those organizations a few years ago. Arm2Arm flies about 10 Connecticut doctors and nurses to the Dominican Republic every year for a weeklong clinic to help impoverished Haitians living there. Arm2Arm was planning its first trip to Haiti Jan. 28. Now, with this latest crisis, Adonis' goal may change.
But first, Adonis must find her sister, who lives in Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince hit hard by the earthquake. Adonis said she and the group had planned to stay there during their visit.
"It's worrisome. I don't care how positive you try to think, it's bad," Adonis said. "It's upsetting. It's my home and it hurts. I feel like I should be there right now helping."
The mission trip was to include giving medical care at a church in Petionville and at an orphanage in Carrefour, a heavily damaged section of the capital city.
"We're definitely going to need more doctors, more nurses," Adonis said.
Another group, the Connecticut Haitian American Organization, held an impromptu meeting Wednesday evening that drew about 50 people, including Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez and Hartford Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson, members of churches and ministries, members of West Indian and Caribbean social clubs and businesses and concerned citizens.
The group met at Vibz Uptown, a Haitian-owned club in Hartford, to discuss what it could do in the next few days and months to provide money, clean water, food and other necessities for the earthquake victims. The group plans to set up accounts with various banks so people can make charitable donations, to have drop boxes at various businesses in the area where people can drop off needed items and to reserve space on cargo ships for containers of fresh water and supplies.
"We need all the help we can get," said John Percy, president of the organization. "You can reach out to everybody you know. If you can get everybody to donate $1 or $2, that will go a long way."
Perez expressed his support for the cause.
"We'll try to do everything we can to speak with one voice so that we maximize help early and do as much as we can," he said.
According to U.S. Census estimates, Connecticut had 18,190 residents reporting Haitian ancestry in 2008, including 11,717 who were born in Haiti.
Local residents with ties to Haiti furiously dialed phone numbers Wednesday only to hear busy signals or nothing on the other end. They sent e-mails, sometimes in vain, to others hoping that someone had a working Internet connection. Some updates were posted on Facebook. Other people heard news through one person, who had heard something from another person who had received an e-mail or a very short phone call from a relative or friend.
Pastors Tom and Wendy Vencuss of Wethersfield United Methodist Church have been in Haiti since Monday. They were scheduled to return to Connecticut today, but church officials said that was unlikely. Church officials said they learned that the Vencusses had survived the earthquake through e-mails with relatives.
Members of L'Eglise de L'Epiphanie, a Haitian congregation that operates out of St. John's Episcopal Church in Stamford, also waited to hear the fate of family members in Haiti.
"The silence is totally deafening because there's only one phone system working in Haiti that is consistent. Most of the information we're getting is through the Internet," the Rev. Judith Alexis said.
James Michel, chairman of Hospice St. Joseph, a nonprofit that provides scholarships and medical care to Haitians and houses international medical groups there, said that he'd been unable to reach any survivors.
Michel, who lives in Bloomfield, said he didn't know whether his group's three-story building in Port-au-Prince was intact. The concrete building, which overlooks a valley, includes a clinic and about 15 rooms for missionaries. Twenty-eight staff members work at the facility and roughly 160 scholarship students attend schools throughout Port-au-Prince.
One of those staff members is a former Army reservist woman from Norwich, Michel said. Pharra Hyppolite manages the rooms the organization has for doctors, dentists and other volunteers who come to help the poor, he said.
"She lives there," Michel said. "She manages the whole building."
He's worried that the building may have collapsed because it was built to withstand hurricanes, not earthquakes.
"The thing is, buildings in Haiti are built very stiff to withstand hurricanes," he said. "But, unfortunately, the more stiff they are, the less resistant they are to shaking."
Michel heard some news he described as "encouraging": a board member of Hospice St. Joseph saw post-earthquake footage of a school and church near the organization's building, and they were intact.
He has been calling everyone he knows in Haiti to get information, but cannot get through.
"The most frustrating part of this is the lack of information," Michel said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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