Haiti's Earthquake Leaves Loved Ones Awaiting News

Americans searching for loved ones have an agonizing wait.

January 13, 2010, 8:40 PM

Jan. 14, 2010— -- Two days after the biggest earthquake in Haiti in more than 200 years struck the capital city of Port-au-Prince, causing widespread death and destruction, desperate Americans and Haitian Americans across the United States struggle to contact family members living or working in the poverty-stricken Caribbean nation.

But that has been nearly impossible. The only thing they get on the other end of the line is a busy signal or none at all.

Kristy Wolley last heard from her husband, Dan, 20 minutes before the magnitude 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti at 4:53 p.m. ET Tuesday.

Her husband is in Haiti working with the children's relief organization Compassion International. He was returning to his room at the Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince when the quake hit. He is among the estimated 200 guests who were reported missing in the rubble.

"I go from having hope, because I haven't heard that he's dead to despair that I don't want to live my life without him," she said.

Worried parents in Kansas City, Mo., staff phone lines in hopes of hearing from their daughters, Amanda and Natasha Taylor.

The two women, mission workers, were last known to be at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Port-au-Prince.

"I have hope. ... I'm pretty sure if they're at that hospital, they're probably helping out," Gary Taylor said.

The Wolley and Taylor families are among the thousands of Americans still searching for loved ones. There are 45,000 Americans believed to be living in Haiti.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the State Department has a toll free number for updates about those missing in Haiti. It is (888) 407-4747.

"Please, call that number. Let us know about your loved ones," Clinton said on "Good Morning America" today. "We will try to get information."

With phone lines down in Haiti and unreliable cell phone reception, many people have turned to online networking sites.

People are posting photos and pleas for help in locating friends and family, including a 2-year-old girl, Reyina, on a site called the Kreyol Network.

A Facebook page dedicated to finding people at the Hotel Montana includes worried posts from families of students from Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

11 of the 14 people in their group have been reported safe.

"Our priority is to get them home. Whether it is immediately home or somewhere else, that is our priority at the moment," Lynn University spokesman Jason Hughes said.

Kristen Naimoli, 24, posted a photo of her father-in-law, Anthony Naimoli, who was also staying at the Hotel Montana.

"We're just praying, trying to keep the faith up. Really any positive feedback we can get would be great," Naimoli told ABC News.

Some prayers have been answered. The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, N.J., received a text message that all 20 of its parishioners serving in Haiti are safe.

Radio Station Offers Lifeline to Family Members

One Brooklyn, N.Y., woman, Marie Hailie, finally got word late Wednesday afternoon that her father-in-law was dead. She wailed and grasped a nearby fence for support, still waiting for word on the rest of her family.

"My mother is there," Hailie said. "She just went to Haiti."

For so many of such relatives, there is a lifeline to Port-au-Prince -- a radio station in Brooklyn.

At the end of a darkened hallway is a lone radio operator who is inundated with calls. Ricot Dupuy is sending out one of the few radio broadcasts that's coming from Haiti, and listeners are asking if there's any way he can get word back to ask about their loved ones.

It's difficult, even for him.

"I did get through for 2½ minutes before getting cut off," Dupuy said.

One caller to the radio program asked about her blind mother who is living alone in Haiti. To her relief, someone in the country agreed to check.

In another room at the station, a man who had hovered for eight hours finally got word that his brother had survived.

"I am very, very, very happy," he said.

But there are limits to what one radio operator can do. Dupuy was still airing that one radio feed from Haiti Wednesday evening and was still waiting to hear from that caller's blind mother.

In Haitian communities across this country, others were experiencing the same excruciating wait.

A father in Miami waited for word on his wife and three young children. He hadn't slept since the earthquake hit.

"They are in God's hands," the man said. "That's it. There's nothing I can do."

Shortly after the quake struck and news spread, Rose Leandre of Spring Valley, N.Y., tried to call her mother, who had traveled to her native Haiti a day earlier.

"She's disabled. She has severe arthritis, so during the wintertime, it's horrible for her, so she usually goes and spends a month or two in warmer weather," Leandre said Tuesday evening.

Leandre runs the Haitian-American Cultural and Social Organization, which provides immigration, social and educational outreach to the sizable Haitian community -- estimated to be at least 11,000, according to the U.S. Census -- in Rockland County, one of New York City's northern suburbs.

The center has been fielding inquiries from anxious Haitians in the community.

"Everybody's been calling all over and calling each other, 'Have you heard from your family?' And, so far, no one's getting through," she said.

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