Haiti in crisis: Haitians in Brooklyn mourn earthquake victims as communication breaks down
A New Yorker mourns missing relatives in Haiti on Wednesday night in Brooklyn. (Photo: AP)
New York cradles Haiti’s largest expatriate community, and Wednesday, the grief on city streets was incalculable. It seemed every Haitian in New York was missing at least one family member.
“The prayers of every New Yorker in every part of our city are with you today and we are with you,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a visit Wednesday to Flatbush. “With every news account, this seems to be an even greater tragedy than what we feared before.”
A conversation cut short“He said, ‘Mommy, I’m leaving now. I feel have to go,’” said Vivien, 51, an émigré who has two children in Haiti. “I said, ‘Why? What is happening?’”
Danielle Vivien, of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, was chatting on the phone with her son, Youri, who was in Port-au-Prince, on Tuesday when he abruptly ended their call — at the hour the earthquake hit.
Dazed and distraught, the mother explained Wednesday that she hasn’t heard from the 26-year-old since. “There is no answer, no nothing,” said Vivien, clutching a photo of Youri.
Humanitarian help on the air
The tiny office of Radio Soleil d’Haiti in Flatbush has been transformed into an emergency call center. Haitian-Americans are flooding the phone lines, asking that the names of lost relatives be read on the air back in Haiti.
“It’s something we’re doing by default, but it’s something we have to do,” said station manager Ricot Dupuy, 55, who has slept only one hour since news of the earthquake broke. “Haiti is not new to calamities, but this is the mother of calamities.”
City Councilman Mathieu Eugene (D-Brooklyn), a Haitian-American, tried to console his constituents. “People are calling me crying that they don’t know what happened to their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers,” he said.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who has longtime ties to crime-fighting groups there, had dined at Haiti’s national palace just last week and was stunned to hear of its collapse. Some of his colleagues there are believed dead. There are virtually no building codes on the island, he said.
“We need the help of the United States government, the only entity that can make a dent in this problem,” Kelly said.
(Cover image: Dave Sanders)
Fifth-grader Brian Desit has heard stories of his parents’ native Haiti, but has never visited himself. The 10-year-old may have to wait longer still. His family has scheduled a trip for the summer, but is rethinking, as they acknowledge the devastated Port-au-Prince will not be the safe and beautiful city they remembered.
“I hope something is changed, but I don’t know,” said Brian’s father, Denis, who has lived in Brooklyn for 31 years. Denis Desit on Wednesday still had not heard from some brothers and sisters in Haiti. He crowded Radio Soleil, anxious for answers.
Fear of the unknownThe home of one of Aubourg’s cousins in Haiti had been destroyed, but the family escaped unharmed. Other cousins Wednesday were still missing.
“The level of uncertainty is what’s difficult,” said Ronald Aubourg, 49, a consultant who lives in East Flatbush.
Aubourg hopes the U.S. will grant asylum to his countrymen. “It’d be better for Haitians — given the fact that they’re devastated — to know they have a home here.”
Phone web of desperation
Linda Jean-Baptiste, who recently moved to East Flatbush, was shocked to learn about the earthquake from a cab driver. Wednesday in front of Radio Soleil, the 33-year-old said between 40 and 50 family members are unaccounted for.
“Pretty much all my family is in Haiti,” said Jean-Baptiste, as she traded news with her mom in rapid Croele. “It’s very depressing.”
Her mother in Orlando and sister in Boston joined her in desperately trying to reach their loved ones in Haiti, mostly to no avail. “Communication has been horrible.”
A life suddenly in turmoil
Kombit, a Haitian restaurant in Prospect Heights, was closed and deserted Wednesday. Its staff was on a weeklong vacation, but some were likely mourning the relatives they may never see again.
“I didn’t know Haiti could have an earthquake like that. The island isn’t equipped for that,” said a stunned employee, 26-year-old J.F.
Even worse: His sister, a fellow New Yorker, had flown to Port-au-Prince earlier this week, and now she’s among the missing.
Jason Fink contributed to this story.