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Countless help calls in Haiti don't reach target

Call after call from victims seeking help from emergency services in earthquake-shattered Haiti are simply not getting through because systems that connect different phone networks are not working, officials from a telecommunications provider in the country said Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Call after call from victims seeking help from emergency services in earthquake-shattered Haiti are simply not getting through because systems that connect different phone networks are not working, officials from a telecommunications provider in the country said Wednesday.

David Goldfarb, an engineer from Alcatel-Lucent, said the company has been able to see through the Internet and other means that emergency calls so many have been attempting are not reaching their destination.

Goldfarb explained that when people make calls from their cell phones, they go through a certain network. The emergency dispatch or police station they are trying to reach might be on another network. The connecting lines or "trunks" in many parts of the country are down, so the calls don't go through, he said.

Calls are being placed sometimes 15 to 20 times from the same phone, which is "painful to watch," said Jyoti Mahurkar-Thombre, Alcatel-Lucent's general manager of wireless voice, because the person probably desperately needs help.

People on the same network, however, may have an easier time getting through to each other, she said. Alcatel-Lucent's provider in Haiti is Digicel, but the country has several others, she said.

The company wants to help by reaching people in Haiti to give them a list of the numbers it sees calling the emergency number 114. This way, people on the same network may be able to reach those who keep calling, she said.

Time is of the essence, she said, because generators running some of the systems may not be working soon and the batteries in people's phones will run out without a way to recharge them.

She added that the company is trying to find a way to post numbers of people who are still making calls to at least let loved ones trying to contact them know that a call was placed from their phone in the last hour or day. It doesn't mean it is the person, she pointed out, just that the call came from the phone. But at least it would be something, she said.

Mahurkar-Thombre and Goldfarb said they have also tried to call from their offices in Florida to the numbers they see, but cannot get through, as so many relatives have reported.