As death counts rise and chaos spreads after Tuesday’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, New York City’s Haitian communities are staggering with fear and loss in a long-distance aftershock.
“Everyone is just trying to gather what information they can,” said Bernadette Gerard, executive director of the Brooklyn organization Voice of Haitian Americans, Inc. Television and radio reports get worse by the hour: Thousands dead, fires in the streets, survivors digging their loved ones out of the rubble by hand. “We can see that the capital has collapsed,” Gerard said Wednesday. “People are just trying to get news of their families in the villages and towns. No one can get through. The phone lines are down.”
See resources and ways to help below.
Outside of Florida and Haiti itself, New York City is home to the greatest number of Haitians – estimated at about 125,000 – in the world. The Republic of Haiti has a population of nearly 9 million, on its third of the island of Hispaniola, and has been wrecked by poverty and natural disasters for decades.
Clement Chrispin, founder of the Queens group Haitian Americans United for Change, has been trying to reach his father and sister since yesterday, when news of the earthquake was spreading in the evening. “I’m extremely worried,” Chrispin said. “I’ve heard that the area of Port-au-Prince where they live was hit pretty bad.”
Local community organizations are fielding information as best they can. “The phone is ringing constantly,” said Jean Michel, executive director of Chay Pa Lou Community Center in Crown Heights. (The phrase means “with many hands, the load is not heavy.”) Said Michel: “People are going to different radio stations” – local Caribbean-focused ones – “and the stations are referring them back to us. We’re compiling information about what’s happening on certain blocks and certain cities.” (For more on the role of micro-local radio in the neighborhood and beyond, see In Flatbush, Pirate Radio Tunes In To Trouble, City Limits Weekly #702, Sept. 21, 2009.)
Chay Pa Lou has been raising funds to build housing in Haiti. “The problem is that Port-au-Prince was built for 50,000 people and there are [2 million] people living there with no infrastructure whatsoever,” he said. “We knew something like this could happen.” In the face of the current catastrophe, the organization is trying to move building efforts forward, to begin in the next two or three months.
Mayor Bloomberg announced yesterday that the city is collecting donations through the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. At a press conference Wednesday, he said the fund had already received more than 12,000 calls by 11 a.m. City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who represents the Flatbush area that’s home to the greatest concentration of Haitians (and whose own family is from the Caribbean island of Grenada), is compiling a list of well-reputed organizations that are also channeling contributions to rebuilding and humanitarian efforts in Haiti.
Williams, Bloomberg and other officials and community leaders gathered at Holy Cross Church in Flatbush today to review the situation. Williams, along with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, is calling on President Obama to immediately enact the Haitian Protection Act, which would grant Temporary Protected Status to Haitian immigrants. “These residents must be able to work in order to assist devastated family members at home,” he said in a press release today.
Williams chief of staff Ede Fox said, “Essentially, we’re asking that people call their local elected officials for specific organizations [for donations]…We will have drop boxes in our district offices and local churches for people to bring medical supplies.”
At 6:00 this evening, several local organizations will host a prayer vigil outside of the Haitian Consulate in Manhattan.
Resources and Ways To Help
• For information about individual Haitians, city officials recommend calling the U.S. Department of State at 1-888-407-4747.
• To reach national and international aid organizations, see this list: Haiti Disaster Relief: How To Contribute, The New York Times, Jan. 13
• Mayor Bloomberg recommends donating money through The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.
• NYC Public Advocate Bill de Blasio: 212-669-7200
• City Councilman Jumaane Williams can be reached through Chief of Staff Ede Fox: 646-737-2426.
Additional reporting contributed by Nekoro Gomes and Karen Loew.