A Salt Lake couple is working with the State Department and a group of attorneys in Pittsburgh to bring 130 Haitian children from a badly damaged orphanage to the United States.

More than 100 of those children are in the process of being adopted by American families. That includes a good number who have adoption decrees and whose new families were just waiting for visas, said Greg Constantino, a Salt Lake attorney who is secretary and treasurer of a nonprofit that raises money for the Maison des Enfantes de Dieu orphanage in Port-au-Prince.

His wife, Dr. Tawnya Constantino, a neurologist at Intermountain Medical Center, will leave today for the Dominican Republic on a private jet donated by a St. George man. Her goal is to kick-start preparations for what they hope will be a large evacuation effort, Greg Constantino told the Deseret News Saturday.

In the initial earthquake, the back wall of the orphanage collapsed, hitting one of the nannies, who later died from lack of medical care. The children all lived, and today some food got through, but they are now in critical need of water and formula. Infants are especially vulnerable. About half of the children are under age 2, he said, and a few of them have AIDS, and their medication is running out.

They've been living with about 40 staffers in five government-provided tents in the orphanage's courtyard because the building is not safe, but the outer wall has now collapsed in the aftershocks, making them prey for looters and marauders, said Constantino.

"They're complete exposed and there's no security," he said. "How long can you survive in the elements in tents with kids of this age, especially when you're not feeding the babies formula?"

The May Law Group, which includes a large group of volunteer lawyers in Pennsylvania, is working with the State Department on the issue of humanitarian visas, he said.

20 comments on this story

"We're hoping that a solution is negotiated between the U.S. and Haitian governments fast and then the logistics problems can be worked out." Besides security issues, those include the sheer volume of children from the orphanage who must be moved. The ports, he said, are closed right now. They'd hoped to land a helicopter in an open field and start ferrying the children, but it would take hours, and they don't have the security force for that, he said.

The law firm is also working to get children from the Vresma orphanage, located up the hill, into the United States, he said. Their situation is even more dire because they are farther from the airport and the port.

The Constantinos, who adopted a Haitian child in June 2007, first became involved with the orphanage after a tsunami in Haiti created 100,000 orphans. They and other Utahns, he said, have used their skills to help the orphanage over the years.

e-mail: lois@desnews.com