As news of the crisis in Haiti spread after Tuesday’s earthquake, some Mainers on Thursday waited for word of their loved ones while others rallied support for the devastated country.
The parents of a 20-year-old Eddington woman learned their daughter, Colby College senior Jessica Frick, was unhurt in the earthquake along with her roommate, Yanicka Faustin. Cindy Frick said Thursday that the two students were unharmed and staying with Faustin’s father in his home in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. She had received the news in a call Wednesday evening from Faustin’s mother in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“We had been holding our breath for 24 hours,” Cindy Frick said. “We don’t know how long it will take to get her home, but just knowing she’s safe is enough right now.”
There has been no news yet of the status of Margarette Saintilver, the 26-year-old Haitian seminarian who visited the Bangor area for two months last summer. According to the Rev. Marguerite Steadman of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bangor, the Episcopal Cathedral in Port-au-Prince was demolished in the earthquake along with the seminary and a nearby school for children.
A Newburgh man still is awaiting word of his relatives in Port-au-Prince. Carrel D’Haiti, an engineer with Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, said Thursday that a niece and a nephew have died in the ruins of Port-au-Prince. Two other nephews were rescued alive from the rubble, but their conditions were not known, D’Haiti said.
D’Haiti’s 41-year-old sister is missing, along with her 19-year-old son. Two other nephews also are missing, he said. In addition, he said, he has a large extended family living together in a three-story residence in Port-au-Prince; many are unaccounted for.
“It will take a miracle to find them all,” he said, “but I am still hopeful.”
Gov. John Baldacci and members of the Maine Legislature issued a statement Thursday urging Mainers to donate generously to established relief agencies.
After a major disaster, many people want to donate goods or services or go to the stricken area personally to help, but Baldacci said that in Haiti there is no infrastructure to support independent volunteers or unsolicited goods.
Kathy Knight, director of the Northeastern Maine Regional Resource Center in Brewer, said many Mainers want to help in Haiti. The resource center is one of three such organizations in Maine charged with developing and coordinating regional disaster plans that include health care facilities, emergency responders, public safety providers and other groups.
Knight, who also serves on the board of directors at the Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross in Bangor, said Thursday that well-intentioned individuals and volunteer groups should not attempt to travel to Haiti on their own, regardless of how well-trained they are.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and other groups are moving quickly to assess the scope of the disaster and set up regional relief efforts, Knight said. Once a basic plan is in place, she said, there may be opportunities to help in person. But for now, she said, individuals or groups who show up unannounced will be more of a burden than a help.
The best way to support the people of Haiti and the disaster response effort is by making a financial donation to a reputable organization, Knight said. People also should consider becoming members of local disaster response programs, where they can be trained appropriately, she said.
Reputable organizations on the ground in Haiti include the American Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the American Jewish World Service, CARE, Catholic Relief Services and Oxfam, according to Knight.
Churches of all denominations will be encouraging their congregations to dig deep. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland announced Wednesday that a special collection will be taken this weekend, and the Episcopal Diocese of Maine urged donations to the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund.
The U.S. Department of State is encouraging cell phone users to donate $10 to the American Red Cross by texting the message “HAITI” to 90999. The donation will be charged automatically to the user’s cell phone account.
As of noon Thursday, more than $3.5 million for Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti had been raised through cell phone donations.
Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins issued statements Thursday expressing their support for the people of Haiti.
“The reports and images I have seen show unspeakable devastation, and it is vital that the U.S. and the international community move swiftly to save lives and assist in the cleanup,” Snowe said in her statement.
Collins said she is working with several Maine families with loved ones in Haiti, trying to find information and help evacuate those who are trapped in the country.
Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., also issued a statement of support for the people of Haiti.
“The National Guard stands ready to work with the Army and the Air Force to provide humanitarian assistance to Haiti when called upon,” he said.
In Augusta, spokesman Capt. Shanon Cotta of the Maine Army National Guard said there has been no word yet of deploying Maine troops to help in Haiti.
But Maine Guard members have a long and distinguished record of helping during large-scale disasters, he noted, including serving for many months in the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.