Editor's note: If you have information out of Haiti or know people with ties to the island country, please e-mail [email protected].
The phone rings and rings, but no one is picking up. And thousands of miles away in Taylorsville, Hernandez and Alda Honore are becoming more desperate as they try to reach their moms and their siblings in Haiti.
Alda Honore's mother, a sister and six brothers live in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital city and the scene of much of the devastation from Tuesday's earthquake. They have phones, but she hasn't gotten through.
Does that mean the circuits are busy? The lines are down? There's no one left to answer? She simply doesn't know.
Her husband's mother lives nearby, and no one's answering at her house, either, Alda Honore said.
At 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, a very worried Farnel Pierre-Louis got a single hopeful phone call through from his Utah home to his sister living a few miles outside Port-au-Prince. She and her children are all alive, he was told. They think his mother's fine but can't find her in the chaos following the quake. And there are many relatives whose fate remains unknown, said his wife, Susan Gleason Pierre-Louis.
All day Wednesday, Farnel Pierre-Louis was working the phones, talking to Haitian friends across the United States to see what they know. By midafternoon, he alone had successfully reached a loved one in Haiti.
He met his wife, Utahn Susan Gleason, while she was living in Port-au-Prince and serving as program director for a rehabilitation clinic built in large part on the dreams, labor and fundraising of Utahns. Besides trying to reach family, they were scrambling to learn the fate of that Healing Hands for Haiti clinic, along with others from the Salt Lake-based organization.
Healing Hands owns and operates a six-acre compound in Haiti's capital that includes a rehabilitation clinic and more than a dozen apartments rented by people working for the United Nations and other relief organizations.
In his office at St. Mark's Hospital, Healing Hands founder Dr. Jeffrey Randle checked his phone for missed calls and text messages countless times Wednesday.
Randle, a rehabilitation specialist, said he reached the executive director, who had gone home for the day by the time the earthquake hit about 5 p.m. He is unharmed but has not yet been able to get back to assess damage.
What happened to the other 50 people who work at the clinic — nurses, prosthetic technicians, housekeepers, security and yard people, two of whom live on-site — is entirely unknown, Randle said. Communication is out.
One team director, who had also already left the compound for the day, is all right, he said.
Randle expressed grave concern because one of the area's premier hotels, Montana Hotel, located near the compound, was flattened by the earthquake.
"It was leveled," he said. "From what we understand, the road to our clinic is impassable because of all the collapsed buildings. I am fearful for the worst.
"I just can't believe that Haiti gets the worst of everything," said Randle, who first went to Haiti as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The lack of rehabilitation services and the poverty left him determined to become a rehab doctor and to return and help.
Even on its best days, Haiti's infrastructure is woefully inadequate, the doctor said. In the two decades Randle has been traveling to the country, he has watched paved roads turn into nearly impassable dirt routes. Clean water is scarce and those who can afford them carry multiple cell phones to compensate for poor reception.
"Even when things are running on all cylinders, you only get power four hours a day," Randle said. "There are people who will go weeks without people getting to them. … I can't think of a worse place for an earthquake to strike than downtown Port-au-Prince."
Susan and Farnel Pierre-Louis returned to Utah several years ago, but their ties to Haiti are strong. And Wednesday, she'd already begun piecing together information on those she knows so well in the island country.
The St. Joseph Home for Boys, where dozens, perhaps even hundreds of Healing Hand volunteers have worked so many times "is gone," she said bleakly. But the boys survived and they will be moved to the Healing Hands compound. If the three-story main building and add-ons are gone, the six acres will nonetheless provide room to set up a makeshift home for those boys, she said. "There will be someplace for them there."
Alexandre Paul, a former Haitian diplomat who has lived in Provo for the past three years, said he contacted his father by e-mail Wednesday and was relieved to learn that family members had not been injured.
"We had no contact (Tuesday)," Paul said. "I tried many times but I could not get through. He sent an e-mail today saying that everybody is safe, but some homes have been damaged."
Paul was a minister counselor for Haiti in the United Nations and the Bahamas and later was consul general in Miami. He ran as an independent candidate for president of Haiti in 2005.
Paul received a law degree from BYU in 1993. He had joined the LDS Church in 1980 while serving as a diplomat in the Bahamas.
Provo resident Paul Cook, founder of A Child's Hope Foundation, which operates an orphanage in Timarche, about 25 miles south of Port-au-Prince, said he had made telephone contact Wednesday with the orphanage and had learned that none of the 200 orphans in the organization's care had been injured.
"Fortunately, when we built the orphanage, we built it better than local standards," Cook said. "There was only slight damage to the building."
In Lehi, dentists at Stonehaven Dental are still waiting to hear if a planned humanitarian mission to the Caribbean country will take place in three weeks.
As far as he knows, dentist Eric Tobler will still be traveling to Haiti the first week in February. Tobler will perform dental work for free to backcountry Haitians, many who have never seen a dentist.
Stonehaven, run by Bret Tobler and sons Eric and Nate, has been sending employees to Haiti on humanitarian missions for the past seven years.
"You hate to hear that kind of a devastation for a country that's so poor already," said Nate Tobler, who has been to Haiti three times. "It's going to be really hard for them to rebuild. Things are in such shambles there already; I can't imagine them putting it back together."
Prayers for the Haitian people and those who are helping in the rescue effort were offered Wednesday during a regularly scheduled Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine by Fr. Omar Ontiveros. He remembered those killed and injured by the earthquake, asked God to "come to their aid. Bring all who are departed into the life of your presence."
He prayed particularly for the Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, 63-year-old Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot, whose body was found in the ruins of the archdiocesan offices.
In Aug. 2000, Deseret News published a series on the Salt Lake-based Healing Hands for Haiti:
Aug. 13, 2000: Bringing hope to Haiti
Aug. 13, 2000: Island visit opens eyes and heart
Aug. 14, 2000: Hard times a constant of Haitian history
Aug. 15, 2000: Mending bodies, building a legacy