Haitian-Canadians scrambling for information following massive earthquake

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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MONTREAL - Haitian-Canadians found themselves in a painfully familiar place Wednesday: scrambling for information about loved ones in a homeland pounded by misfortune.
For a country already crippled by a string of recent hurricanes, they feared that this disaster would be the worst one yet.
Community members say it's even harder to reach loved ones this time, in the wake of Tuesday's earthquake, than it was following the floods that buried swaths of the country in 2007.
There were desperate Facebook postings. Pleas for information on the radio. And myriad calls for donor aid.
Even workers at a community radio station trying Wednesday to help listeners get information were struggling themselves to get news about their own relatives.
A Haitian radio station in Montreal is urging listeners to call in with any information they may have about the impact of a monster earthquake.
"The only way we can have information is if somebody calls their family in Haiti," said radio host Robert Ismael. "We are waiting for information."
Ismael hasn't been able to get in touch with his own family and is growing worried.
Tuesday's quake knocked out phone and power lines, and potentially left thousands of casualties.
"I don't know what's happened," he said. "I don't know if I have family who have died or not. I don't know."
Ismael says the little information he has indicates the streets are filled with water and homes have been damaged in Cap-Haitien, one of Haiti's largest cities.
Canada is home to one of the world's largest Haitian communities, with more than 100,000 living here.
The vast majority - 90 per cent of them - live in Quebec.
Haitian-Canadians have been trying different ways of reaching family.
Many people have cell phones in that country, rich and poor, but service is down, said Montrealer Melissa Heurtelou.
"One provider appears to be keeping up, but the others are not," she said.
She has also tried using Facebook and Twitter to reach cousins, but hadn't received any response as of Wednesday morning.
"It's an unprecedented communication breakdown," said Pierre Emanuelle, news director at the community radio station.
It's far from the only recent disaster to hit Haiti. In fact, swaths of the country were flooded, covered in mud, or wiped out by a crippling series of hurricanes in 2007.
But Emanuelle said that when disaster struck in the past, information flowed more readily.
"All the infrastructure is destroyed this time," he said.
"In the past, we've maybe lost contact with one town, but not a general blackout involving the whole country."
Social networking sites are fast becoming the first resort for those desperate for information from Haiti.
Facebook groups were quickly popping up with pictures of the missing affixed with pleas for information.
"Please let me know if anybody seen my mother in Haiti her name is Mirabelle Moise was in carrefour, Mahothiere...," said one typical posting.
Others pledged money, cellphones and humanitarian help.
One federal bureaucrat tried most of Tuesday night to get in touch with close friends and relatives in Haiti - to no avail.
Jean Wolff, who moved to Canada from Haiti in 1968, expressed disbelief over the string of misfortune that has befallen his homeland.
"I'm wondering why? Why Haiti? Why again? There's a sense of meaninglessness," said Wolff, an official at the National Capital Commission.
"And there's the wait. There's hope but there's lots of worries."
Wolff said he has watched closely over the years in frustration as aid efforts for his homeland have been driven by global politics rather than the everyday needs of the Haitian people.
Now, he hopes the catastrophe will shake the international aid community into working together to rebuild, rather than every agency and country acting on its own.
"My first though is that considering the scale of devastation that seems to be emerging, it would be useful for the Haitian people and the international community, that when we start moving beyond the initial recovery, that we have a coherent plan."
Wolff's cousin flew to Haiti earlier this week, carrying a few gifts from the Ottawa man for friends and relatives there. He has no news from his cousin, or any of his close firends.
"I'm having a lot of contradictory feelings, because I don't have any information."

Organizations: National Capital Commission

Geographic location: Haiti, MONTREAL, Canada Cap-Haitien Quebec Ottawa

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