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Haitian Community in New York Waits for News, Rallies to Help

  • Victoria Cavaliere

In New York city, the world's largest Haitian community out side of Port-au-Prince has launched a campaign to collect food and donations to send to the Caribbean nation following Tuesday's earthquake. Haitians also rallied together to share information and comfort as they wait to hear word from home.

That's the sound that Medjine Batille gets every time she tries to call her cousins in Haiti. Ms. Batille, who lives and works in Brooklyn but was born in Haiti, says she has a huge number of friends and family around Port-au-Prince. She has not been able to make contact with most of them since Tuesday's 7.0 earthquake.

Ms. Batille has gotten some news from home, and all of it was bad. Her aunt, who was in the hospital when the quake happened, was killed when the building collapsed. Other members of her family lost their home. "Their house collapsed. Their house where they used to live, it collapsed. So they are living in the street. No food. Nothing," she said.

According to census estimates, there are approximately 125,000 people of Haitian origin living in New York City. Much of the population lives in tight-knit communities in Brooklyn and Queens.

Shamir Henri, who is of Haitian decent, works at the donation coordination at the Bedford Haitian Community Center in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. He says he too has a countless number of aunts, uncles, cousins and friends in Haiti that he has not been able to reach by telephone. He says the unanswered questions surrounding their fate has been agonizing. "The communication has been down so I don't really know what's going on there. I've been trying to phone everyday. I'm wishing everything is good, but I really don't know what's going on," he said.

Henri says he's trying to stay calm and focus on work at the community center, which has gotten much busier since the disaster. He says his mother, who also lives in Brooklyn, has been overcome with worry. "My mom, she is not really doing so good about it. She really is having a hard time with this. I'm just coping with her so she can get through this, until we know exactly what's going on," he said.

Churches, community centers and local Haitian groups have been holding vigils and collecting donations of food, water, clothing and money to send back to Haiti. Ms. Batille says the effort has reached beyond just the Haitian community and across New York City. "Now, people that I don't know, they have become my family too because of what happened. You have to send for everybody else. Everybody care for Haiti right now, for the people," she said.

New York's Governor David Paterson said the state is compiling a registry of New Yorkers known to be in Haiti in order to notify relatives of their whereabouts.