“It was really by the grace of God,” Samantha Feteau of Evanston said Wednesday. “My mother has been calling non-stop and couldn’t get through yesterday, but today she was on the phone for 10 minutes and talked to at least three people. She got to hear their voices and knows they are OK. Then they got disconnected and couldn’t get back through.”
Feteau, 23, and her family had finally gotten word that their Haitian relatives were all right after hours of waiting in a state of near panic. Their story isn’t uncommon among Haitian-Americans in the Chicago area.
Two days after a magnitude seven earthquake struck 10 miles outside the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, all Haitian-Americans can do is mobilize relief efforts, share their stories and wish for the best.
According to CNN reports, a possible reason for the colossal destruction of Port-au-Prince is that the city’s population has grown eight-fold since the mid-1950s.
Timothy M. Carney, former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, said this quick growth happened with little regulation and lead to the rapid building of unstable structures.
“Seems like we can’t get a break in Haiti,” Stephen Albert, 23, of Evanston said. His parents were born in Petionville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince. They have at least 10 family members in the area they are waiting to hear from.
“I have an uncle who is in Port-au-Prince. His clinic is ruined, but he is OK. My dad spoke to him,” Albert said.
Relief efforts from health and humanitarian organizations in the Chicago area are financial at this point. The main focus of these organizations is getting monetary and supply aid to their on-ground operations in the Western hemisphere’s poorest country.
CARE, a humanitarian organization dedicated to fighting global poverty, has been operating in Haiti since 1954. Tom Hanschman, senior director of CARE in Chicago, said the team in Haiti is primarily focused on dealing with emergencies and disaster assistance since the island nation is frequently hit by hurricanes and lies on a fault line.
“Our competitive advantage is—because in many countries like Haiti we’ve been there for three, four, five decades—we have established systems in place to provide relief,” Hanschman said. “Because we are also there in the long-term, we’ll be there to help with efforts in phases two, three and four of relief, once the media has gone away.”
Evanston-based GlobeMed, a network of university students that partner with grassroots organizations around the world to improve the health of the impoverished, has mobilized staff to raise money using social networking to reach out to their network of about 600 university students.
GlobeMed is asking that their supporters make all donations directly to Partners in Health, a global health organization that provides a preferential option for the poor and has a strong base in Haiti.
“They’re doing the best work down there so we support them directly,” said Ashley Hagaman, chapter advisor and program director of GlobeMed.
Haitian families in the United States are left to cope, and help, in any way they can.
“We’re praying and waiting and hoping they can contact us [again],” Feteau said. “All I know is my mom called the house and they happened to answer. Other people were trying to call the same house after but no one could get through.”
Albert said he gave money to Wyclef Jean’s Yéle Haiti Earthquake Fund online and has been asking friends to donate through mass text. Jean, a Haitian-American musician and humanitarian, created the special fund in light of the disaster.
“Anything that’s going to help I’ll donate.” Albert said.
Feteau said her family’s worries subsided after speaking to their relatives—even if just for a moment—but there are still many questions without answers.
“The tensions are kind of high,” Albert said of his household. “It’s the uncertainty that’s the killer. Once we know someone is OK, then you can breathe a little easier.”
Albert is not sure how to describe the mental state of his family in the wake of the tragedy.
“I don’t think there’s one word for it,” he said. “Distraught, shock, awe, nothing good. It’s an emotional train. We talked to people on Sunday and then yesterday you can’t call. We didn’t see this coming.”
The Haitian death toll was 45,000 to 50,000 Thursday afternoon, according to the American Red Cross.