Hope in Haiti: Haitian-American Connects With Family

Alta Lovesey's sister, Bernadette, survived the earthquake.

Jan. 22, 2010— -- The earthquake in Haiti last week destroyed the family homes of tens of thousands of U.S. Haitians who are still desperately struggling to make contact with loved ones.

There are at least 800,000 Haitians living in the United States, or perhaps a million, according to the World Bank, many striving to make a better life for families back home.

Alta Grace Lovesey is one of them.

Since she left a middle-class home in Port-au-Prince to move to New York at 21, Alta has worked on Park Avenue in New York City as a family's housekeeper. Alta, who worked 20-hour days seven days a week as a housekeeper and overnight nurse's aide, sent most of her earnings back to her family in Haiti.

Alta has always sent barrels of supplies to support 15 members of her family who depend on her hard-earned money. Out of every $100 she earns, "$70 goes to Haiti," she said.

One in every five Haitian households receives money from loved ones abroad, according to the Haitian Census.

The devastating earthquake happened thousands of miles from Alta's modest Manhattan home but unfolded in front of her very eyes. She watched on television as her world crumbled, recognizing her house in the wreckage.

"When it happened, I said, 'God, I lost everything,'" Lovesey told ABC News.

The pancaked building she saw used to be a three-story house where 15 members of her family lived.

"Oh, God, all of them are dead? You cannot do this to me," she said when she saw the rubble.

Her brothers and cousins survived but her two nieces and her sister, Mona, died in the earthquake. She used to call Mona nearly every day. News about the rest of her family was difficult to come by, and, at her request, ABC News went in search of her surviving sister, Bernadette, in Port-au-Prince.

Finding a Sister Alive

We had an address, directly in the heart of the city's hardest hit neighborhood. The area, in a word, was annihilated.

While we searched, one of Alta's cousins happened to walk by. He led our crew through an alley, up a flight of stairs and across a neighbor's roof to see a house that Alta's grandfather built.

The weather-beaten wooden doors took our breath away. The structure built by Alta's carpenter grandfather remained standing, while the three-story modern building next door collapsed. We also discovered some of the barrels that Alta had sent.

Alta's cousin joined us as we drove in search of Bernadette. We had been told that she was staying across the street from a white house but, in fact, it was the White House; the now crumbed presidential palace.

And right there, along with thousands of other living in a tent city, was Bernadette. She said a Cuban medical team dressed a wound on her leg and gave her penicillin and recalled the moment when the earthquake struck.

"I was watching television with Mona and I went to the bathroom," she said. "And the next thing I know it just threw me out of the house."

We arranged a phone call to New York, and Alta was thrilled to learn that Bernadette was safe. Alta was able to talk to her sister, her sister-in-law and her brother, Edsen, for the first time since the earthquake.

After quietly giving Alta's brother some medicine for Bernadette and the children, our part of the journey was over. But it was just the beginning of a long road for Alta's family.