On the day after the devastating 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti, Darlie Jerveis was at home in Flatbush, trying to get information about her 76-year-old father who lives in Port-au-Prince.
Phone call after phone call had been made, and still Jerveis – like many of her compatriots – had no solid information as to whether her father or the relatives with whom he lives, were okay.
“I’m just calling,” Jerveis said. “There’s nothing else I can do. I’m calling his phone. I’m calling the neighbors. That’s how I spend my day. We haven’t heard from him and we have to worry.”
A particular concern, said Jerveis, is Haiti’s weak infrastructure, shaky even before the earthquake. “It always makes you worry that something bad is going to happen,” she stressed. “Our biggest worry is being rescued, and then they can’t do anything for you because there’s no good hospital.”
That reality was touched on, locally, as New York and Brooklyn leaders gathered in the heart of the borough’s Haitian community to pledge assistance to the ravaged country. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor David Paterson, Borough President Marty Markowitz and City Councilmembers Jumaane Williams and Mathieu Eugene were among those who spoke at a press conference at Holy Cross School, 2530 Church Avenue.
Also present at the event were Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Assemblymembers Karim Camara and Inez Barron, and City Councilmembers Letitia James and Al Vann.
Local residents have been calling in tears at all hours, noted Eugene, who himself is Haitian and who was at his office, answering the phone, in the early morning hours. “They need to know what has happened to their father, their mother, their brother, their sister,” Eugene recounted. “This is horrible. We want to say to the Haitian community, you are not alone.”
“What impacts Haiti, impacts Brooklyn,” added Markowitz, who pointed out that the borough has one of the largest Haitian populations outside Haiti. “I know the people of Brooklyn are hurting right now, and I can assure you that Brooklynites will be there, full-time, with checkbooks open to do their part.”
Williams tried to bring the terrifying reality home to his listeners. Imagine, he urged, “Right now, the whole world crumbled around you. The buildings fell in. You’re trapped and you come outside. There are no ambulances. You can’t contact anyone. You don’t know where your family is. It’s dark. There’s absolutely nothing you can do. What if that was you? That’s precisely what’s going on.”
The city stands ready, “To do everything we can to help,” Bloomberg stressed.
“What we’re here to do is to say to New York’s grieving Haitian community that the prayers of every New Yorker in every part of our city are with you today and we are with you. Nous à vous, which means ‘we are with you’ and bon courage, ‘have courage,’” the mayor continued.
Both the city and the state are poised to send highly-trained teams to Haiti when required, the mayor and governor said. Among those ready to be deployed are the city’s Urban Search and Rescue team, which is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response network, and New York’s National Guard.
The state, added Paterson, has, “Coalesced in the fight to help them, just as they helped us a little over eight years ago.”
In addition, said Paterson, the state is working “To create a registry of New Yorkers known to be in Haiti so as quickly as possible we can notify relatives of their whereabouts and, hopefully, of their safety.”
While the humanitarian effort clearly needs to be at the forefront, Williams also touched on another issue, explaining he had, “Asked the federal government to make sure that Haitians are given temporary protective status. We need to make sure that Haitians that are here, regardless of immigration status, can feel comfortable knowing they are here.”
While the news continues to unfold, all said, the best thing that Brooklynites can do to aid Haiti is to provide monetary assistance through reputable organizations such as the American Red Cross, or through the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York, which will forward donations to legitimate aid groups. Information about making contributions through the Mayor’s Fund can be gleaned by calling 311.
As for donations of food, clothing, medical supplies and other goods, Bloomberg emphasized that, “Under circumstances as relief workers directly on the ground tell us, getting donated equipment and supplies for Haiti is just too difficult and time consuming to be helpful. The bottom line is there is not an infrastructure there to take anything physical and deliver it where it is needed. The magnitude of the problem is just much too great and too complex.”
Those who wish to track down information about relatives living in Haiti can call a special State Department hot line, 888-407-4747.