Mainers struggle to contact loved ones in Haiti

By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 13, 2010, at 8:56 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The day after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, residents of the Bangor area struggled to respond to the tragedy.

Robyn and Cindy Frick of Eddington were waiting to hear from their 21-year-old daughter, Jessica, a 2006 graduate of John Bapst High School who is now a senior at Colby College in Waterville. Jessica has been in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, for two weeks, visiting the father of her roommate, Yanica Faustin. Port-au-Prince was devastated in the quake.

Robyn Frick last spoke with his daughter Monday night.

“We spent a rough night [on Tuesday] trying to get information,” he said Wednesday. But with the communication infrastructure destroyed in the impoverished nation, information is hard to come by.

So far, Frick said, he has learned only that Jessica and Yanica registered when they arrived in Port-au-Prince on a roster of foreign visitors at the U.S. Embassy. Other than that, there has been nothing.

In Newburgh, 49-year-old Carrel D’Haiti also was waiting.

“I’m just sitting here waiting for the phone to ring,” the Haitian native said. D’Haiti graduated in 2002 with a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Maine and is now employed at Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems in Brewer.

Already, he said, two of his young nephews have been confirmed dead and two others are missing. He has two brothers and a sister in the Port-au-Prince area, along with numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and other family members.

“I have tried to call them, but you cannot get any communications at all,” D’Haiti said. Normally, he said, his family would be quick to phone him.

“I am trying to be realistic,” he said. “But I still have strong hope that they are alive.”

On Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross created a special Web site to help people contact friends or relatives with whom they’ve lost contact in Haiti.

Many others in the Bangor area have ties to Haiti through medical outreach and the missionary work of their churches.

For the Rev. Marguerite Steadman of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bangor, the connection is deep and personal. The Episcopal Diocese in Maine and the Episcopal Diocese in Haiti have a long partnership, and St. John’s in Bangor has been active in supporting a number of Haitian projects associated with the church.

Last summer, Margarette Saintilver, a 26-year-old seminarian studying in Port-au-Prince, spent two months in the Bangor area as part of her preparation to become one of the first women ordained in Haiti. Steadman worked closely with the aspiring young priest.

On Wednesday, Steadman said she has heard nothing from or about her likable and ambitious protegee.

“We have heard that an apartment building nearby, which is used as a dormitory by some students, is still standing,” Steadman said. “We are hoping that that is good news for Margarette and some of her classmates.”

Bishop Jean Zache Duracin was not injured in the earthquake, but the Gothic Revival cathedral in Port-au-Prince and the seminary buildings were destroyed in Tuesday’s earthquake, Steadman said. Also demolished was the nearby Holy Trinity School for children and teens. Les Petits Chanteurs, a youth chorus from the school, visited Maine in the summer of 2007, staying with area families and performing in several locations, Steadman said.

Another project supported by the Maine Episcopal Diocese, a rural birthing center called Maison de Naissance, suffered little damage.

John Arrison, a parishioner at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Belfast and the coordinator of the Haiti-Maine partnership, said the majority of the partner parishes in Haiti are in the northern part of the country and have probably escaped serious damage.

“But the personal toll is just being realized,” in terms of families and friends who live in the devastated Port-au-Prince area, he said.

In Glenburn, Pam Brochu said her scheduled trip this Friday to the city of Cap-Haitien on the north coast is still on. But instead of bringing a small group of doctors and nurses to staff small rural clinics, she said, the Maine Haitian Mission team will likely dedicate its energies to helping somehow with the recovery effort. Be-cause the airport in Cap-Haitien is still operational, she said, she expects it will be an important staging area for relief crews.

But Cap-Haitien is a good six hours by rough roads from Port-au-Prince, she noted — and that was before the earthquake.

“The roads were bad then,” she said. “I don’t know what it will be like now.”

Retired physicians Lawrence and Danielle Mutty of Castine have been visiting the Pwoje Espwa orphanage for about five years to administer vaccines and other medical care. Danielle Mutty said the southern Haitian facility, founded by the Rev. Marc Boisvert of Lewiston, was undamaged in the earthquake and no one was injured, although strong tremors were felt and the 650 children spent the night sleeping on the ground outside.

“They are very lucky at this point,” she said. “I just hope that all the aid that’s going to be coming down doesn’t just last for a few years. All of Haiti is in terrible condition.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland issued a statement Wednesday indicating a special collection will be taken at churches this weekend for victims of the earthquake. Catholic Relief Services, a program founded by the Catholic bishops of the United States, has a number of people assigned to Haiti and is trying to deter-mine their status and safety, as well as the status of other missionaries and lay people in the country, the statement said.

At the Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross, director Shannon Cox said she had received only a few calls from Mainers seeking information about loved ones in Haiti. But she has fielded a number of calls from people wanting to know how they can help.

While it is very early in the relief effort, Cox said, it is important to recognize that the disaster in Haiti will draw an international response from professional groups. For now, she said, the best donation is probably money.

Cox said people seeking information about family members and other loved ones should call the U.S. State Department disaster line at 888-407-4747.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/01/13/news/mainers-struggle-to-contact-loved-ones-in-haiti/ printed on September 23, 2014