March 3, 2010

Haitians in Maine wait and pray

BETH QUIMBY

— By

click image to enlarge

Moravia “Tito” Drice, center, watches television reports Wednesday on the aftermath of the earthquake in his native Haiti. With Drice at his home in Portland are friends Jean Robert Dubois, left, and Mackenzy Saint Paulin.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Mackenzy Saint Paulin watches televised reports of the earthquake damage in Haiti on Wednesday at the home of fellow Haitian Moravia “Tito” Drice in Portland.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Moravia ''Tito'' Drice said all he could do Wednesday was sit in his living room with fellow Haitians and try to think of ways they could help friends and relatives in their earthquake-devastated country.

Drice and his friends, Charitable Wanche and Mackenzy Saint Paulin of Portland and Jean Robert Dubois of Topsham, spent the morning watching the television at Drice's home on Congress Street, cell phones in hand, hoping to get through to someone who would know what was happening to their loved ones in Haiti.

''All I know is a friend of mine from Boston, pretty much from the same neighborhood as my family, had talked to his brother-in-law, who said a lot of houses came down,'' said Drice, 30, who moved to Portland from Haiti in 2002.

Although Maine's Haitian population is small -- Drice and his friends estimated that 30 Haitians live in southern Maine -- dozens of churches and other organizations and hundreds of Mainers have strong ties to the impoverished island country. They, too, spent Wednesday seeking information about their friends and colleagues, by phone or e-mail, but learning little.

James Francois, a Haitian native who lives in South Portland, said his brother called him from Port-au-Prince on Wednesday morning to let him know that his parents, five siblings and grandparents had survived the earthquake.

But with the good news came some bad. Francois' family had to sleep in the streets because their home's foundation was unstable. ''This is a situation where money can't help,'' he said. ''Only people and prayers can help.''

Francois, who teaches at a private school in Kennebunk and coaches basketball at Scarborough Middle School, said he wants to go to Haiti to help his family in any way he can.

His friend, Sheanna White, who teaches English as a Second Language at Skillin Elementary School and Memorial Middle School in South Portland, visited Haiti for about a week in late December.

She volunteered at a school inside Grace Hospital in Port-au-Prince, reading to the children or singing songs to them. Many of the children have AIDS or are orphans because of the disease.

''I have no idea if (the hospital) is still standing,'' White said Wednesday night.

''The first thing you think about is the children,'' she said. ''They are so helpless.''

Her students in South Portland, who donated school supplies to the hospital for White's last trip, may try to raise money to help the earthquake victims.

Paul Kendrick, a Mainer who is in Cap-Haitien, about 100 miles north of Port-au-Prince, got through by e-mail Wednesday afternoon to Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz, providing his account of the quake, which left northern Haiti relatively unscathed.

Kendrick, an advocate for victims of abuse by Catholic clergy members, was in a restaurant Tuesday when he heard about the earthquake. He ran with other patrons to higher ground, to escape the threat of tsunamis.

''Everyone is wanting news about damage in Port-au-Prince,'' he wrote. ''Most people here have friends or family in Port-au-Prince. One of my friends just shouted with joy. He located his brother and sister in Port-au-Prince. An older man was just here. His wife and daughter are buried in the rubble of their house. He doesn't know whether they are dead or alive.''

Nate Nickerson, executive director of Konbit Sante, said he had not been able to contact Judy Carl, a Portland resident who is teaching English to the staff at the Justinian Hospital in Cap-Haitien. Also unheard from were two dozen hospital staffers who are supported by Konbit Sante, a Portland-based nonprofit group that provides medical support to the Justinian Hospital.

Cap-Haitien is Portland's sister city and the second-largest city in Haiti, with a population of 180,000.

Based on third-hand reports via e-mail, it appeared that Cap-Haitien had no serious damage, Nickerson said.

Nickerson said it was possible that people who were injured in Port-au-Prince would be brought to the Justinian Hospital, because the public hospital in Port-au-Prince had been destroyed.

Nickerson was scrambling to rearrange a trip he had planned to Cap-Haitien later this week. Other Mainers who were scheduled to go to Haiti in the coming weeks were calling off their travels.

Sara Merrill, a member of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Cape Elizabeth, was scheduled to travel Saturday to her church's partner parish, St. Luc's in Tour du Nord, 45 miles east of Cap-Haitien.

She said her group decided that because it is not part of the rescue effort and St. Luc's was spared major damage, it would be best to postpone the visit.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maine has strong ties to Haiti, which is home to the church's largest diocese, said Maine Bishop Stephen Lane. Thirteen Maine Episcopal parishes have relationships with Haitian parishes.

Sue Bernard, spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine, said the church was awaiting word about Maine missionaries and laypeople in Haiti. The diocese plans a special collection this weekend to aid victims of the earthquake.

Portland became a sister city with Cap-Haitien in 2003. The formal agreement was to support the work of Konbit Sante, said Rachel Talbot Ross, Portland's director of equal opportunity and multicultural affairs.

Talbot Ross said the city planned to put a link on its Web site to Konbit Sante, and officials are encouraging donations through the International Red Cross.

Dave Thompson, chief executive officer of the American Red Cross of Southern Maine, said he has received inquiries from Haitians living in Maine who are looking for information on family members in the country.

The country is too unsettled to track down information at this point, he said, but the local chapter plans to do so as soon as possible.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

 

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