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Haitians in France Desperate for News About Loved Ones

Haitian expatriates are desperately awaiting news of loved ones following Tuesday's devastating earthquake. In France, where the Haitian community numbers about 80,000, Haitians in the Paris suburb of Saint Denis have organized a meeting point where they can share information and support.

Dozens of Haitians gathered on a sunny afternoon at a drab municipal center in Saint Denis, a gritty town outside Paris that is home to immigrants from around the world.

They included 27-year-old Mizine Toussaint, cradling her 20-month-old daughter and sitting with her younger sister Marie Michel. Like other Haitians here, she is hoping to get news about friends and family in Haiti.

Toussaint's family lives outside Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince. She has heard the town has been destroyed by the earthquake. She and her sister have been trying to call their family since the quake struck on Tuesday, without success.

Construction worker Lionel Nias tells a similar story.

Nias says he has no news about his family living in the seaport town of Les Cayes. He is shocked and sad.

The gathering has been organized by a local Haitian association called ANIH. Association vice president, Macinzie Briffil, says during these difficult times it is important to gather the community, which numbers about 8,000 in Saint Denis.

Briffil says just being together fortifies Haitians here, and helps them from getting demoralized.

The Saint Denis municipality offered a place for the Haitians to assemble and Red Cross volunteers are on hand to counsel those in need. Maureen Mooney is coordinator for psycho-social programs for the Red Cross in France.

"This is not to make these people into patients. It is to say they have a difficult situation and they need some support. But most of them will get through this. And grieving takes time. Stress about not knowing what is happening, that can really wear people down," she said.

The French government has sent several planes with emergency aid and personnel to Haiti. It also said it would suspend the expulsion of illegal Haitian immigrants - and temporarily allow earthquake victims who need help into the country.

At Saint Denis, Mayor Didier Paillard says the municipality will offer about $6,000 in municipal aid for the Haitian community here. It is also organizing funding drives.

He says Saint Denis wants to do something concrete for Haiti in the coming months - like building a school - to help the island recover from the earthquake.