Image: Child prays for quake victims
J Pat Carter  /  AP
Mitchell Monroe prays for the victims of the Haiti's earthquake during a mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary's on Wednesday in Miami's Haitian community.
updated 1/13/2010 8:48:35 PM ET 2010-01-14T01:48:35

Hans Mardy has dialed the numbers hundreds of times, praying someone — his father, his sister, one of four brothers — will pick up the phone.

He waits, passport in pocket, ready to board the next flight to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. He writes frantic text messages. "Are you alive? What happened? Give me a sign of life."

No one answers.

Across the U.S., which has about 800,000 residents of Haitian descent, Haitian-Americans desperately tried to get word Wednesday from relatives and friends in the devastated nation. Most, like Mardy, heard nothing back.

Some poured their energy into relief efforts, joining Americans with no connection to Haiti who collected bottled water, canned goods, medical supplies and money. Others bowed their heads in prayer or sat transfixed by their televisions.

In Evanston, Ill., Bernard Geto couldn't hold back tears as he watched CNN at Sweet Nick's Caribbean restaurant, jumping each time his cell phone rang. In South Bend, Ind., Slandah Dieujuste learned an aunt lost her house but escaped. She could not get information about anyone else.

And as community organizers in Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood tried to develop response plans, 29-year-old Katia Saint Fleur scoured Facebook, tears welling in her eyes.

"Please if you can, contact us any way, do so," she wrote on a cousin's page. "We are going crazy trying to reach you guys."

‘I call. I call. I call’
Danglass Gregoire headed to Florida for a business trip Tuesday, leaving his wife and young daughter behind in Haiti, close to the epicenter of the 7.0 earthquake. When he arrived at Miami International Airport, the 41-year-old said he wasn't sure if they were alive.

Video: Anxiety runs high among Haitian expats "I call. I call. I call. No one answers," he said.

The State Department said people seeking information about family members in Haiti should call 888-407-4747 toll-free. The government advises that some callers may receive a recording because of the heavy volume of inquiries.

At the Haitian Consulate in Manhattan, diplomats struggling to locate their own families sobbed as they tried to help countless callers.

"It is indescribable," said counsel general Felix Augustine.

People did what they could to mobilize aid to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. The U.S. dispatched ships, helicopters, planes and a 2,000-member Marine unit. Cabdrivers transported relief items to collection points, search-and-rescue teams headed to the nation to comb through the rubble, and companies prepared to send heavy equipment.

New York efforts
In New York, which has a large Haitian-American population, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pledged assistance and suggested residents donate money to established organizations rather than try to send supplies like food and water to a place that does not have the infrastructure to distribute them.

"We saw the world come to our aid back on 9/11," he said, and now New York wants to "make sure that the world comes to the aid of the Haitian people."

Fernando Mateo, head of the city's taxi driver federation, said his 60,000 members and the Bodegueros Association that represents 14,000 grocery owners were launching Operation Rescue Haiti on Wednesday. They are seeking the help of a major transportation company to deliver the goods.

Video: Little Miami suffering from too little information "We are going to mobilize a few industries to come together and bring supplies, food, medicine, clothing, water — stuff that's needed immediately," Mateo said.

In the Chicago suburb of Evanston, about 25 members of the Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti gathered to pray and make plans to help.

"It's a little somber, we're trying to figure out what to do. We're trying to get facts, come together, hold each other up and go beyond our own limitations and try to build collective support," Lionel Jean-Baptiste, chairman of the organization and alderman of Evanston's second ward, told the Chicago Tribune.

‘No life anymore’
For many still waiting for word, the uncertainty made it difficult to focus on anything else.

"You have no life anymore," said Anel Calixte, a cab driver sitting with his friend Geto at Sweet Nick's. "You don't know what to feel anymore because your whole family there, your whole family."

Some tried to hold out hope, blaming the lack of contact from relatives on Haiti's poor communication network, but the uncertainty was crushing. Edeline Clermont of Miami got word that her 12-year-old nephew was dead. The boy's parents, brother and sister are unaccounted for. And all told, she has more than 20 relatives in Haiti she has been desperately trying to reach.

"I didn't sleep at all. I just lay there, waiting for answers," she said with tears in her eyes. "I'm afraid that everybody is gone."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Miami Haitians mobilize to help

  1. Closed captioning of: Miami Haitians mobilize to help

    >>> in haiti . some 350,000 haitians live in florida, many in miami 's little haiti district where they are worried about loved ones . they are organizing disaster relief efforts to haiti like they have done so many times after hurricanes, tropical storms , landslides. kristen dahlgren in miami 's haitian community. what are you learning bow how they are going to get help to their family and friends in haiti .

    >> hi there, contessa. it's estimated some 275,000 haitians live right here in south florida , as devastating as it for us to watch the pictures, imagine if you had friends and loved ones there. they are trying desperately to get in touch with them, to get help. this is a tight anytime community. they came earlier today to talk about how to get help, also to have a mass at st. mary's cathedral. there were 400 schools children that joined with adults here. as you can imagine a lot of tears, a lot of prayers. the children know their parents have been working for almost 20 hours to try to get in touch with those loved ones back in haiti , it's estimated by the school principal only 1% of the families have been successful in doing that. one of the teachers described for what it's been like for one of the students in her class.

    >> one of my students was crying all through since he came in this morning because his father is over there working there while his mother is with him here in miami . so he has no idea whatsoever what's happening with his father.

    >> she had tears in her eyes as she was speaking. speak is tired of seeing pictures like that from haiti . there were four hurricanes in 2008 . this is a community that is used to pulling together to helping. the head of catholic charities said this is a strong community, they they will do it again. they are starting to pool their resources, once airports open and they are allowed to get there, they will be sending as much aid as they can. the u.s. coast guard has been sending resources and southern command sending military resources from here as well, contessa.

    >> kristen dahlgren, thanks for staying on top of the reaction of the haitian community there in miami .

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