Miami's 'Little Haiti' Neighborhood Waits For News
In Miami's "Little Haiti" neighborhood, waves of shock and grief continue to roll over community members. As the extent of devastation in their homeland becomes clear, people are trying to figure out how to get information from the earthquake zone and cope with their losses.
A communications blackout continued Thursday and many in the community of 110,000 Haitian-Americans remained frantic about the fate of friends and relatives.
Thursday morning, shopkeeper Francesca Jean clutched a cell phone held together with duct tape. She had pressed "redial" too many times.
"Since yesterday I've been trying to get in contact with Haiti and I'm trying to call my mom and my brother to see if they're OK, but I don't have no signal or nothing," Jean says.
The lack of communication with Haiti has become a tremendous logistical issue. Donations are coming in: 50,000 portable housing units from one source, generators from another, supplies of bottled water from a third. But Frantzy DeRose, director of the local Haitian-American alliance, says the need cannot be accurately measured.
"Right now we're just trying to get together different organizations, different people that [are] in the community so we can get together and we could try to develop a line of communication," DeRose says. "We want to help them but we have no contact there."
Hundreds gathered Wednesday night for a prayer service at Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church in Miami. At the beginning of a Creole song of mourning, attendees were restrained. But emotions gradually erupted and by the end of the hymn people were wailing, some of them kneeling in tears with their hands in the air, or even rolling on the floor.
Father Reginald Jean-Mary reminded them that Haiti has historically suffered misfortune followed by worldwide apathy. But he said Haitians are the children of God as much as anyone, and they deserve common fairness. That included, he said, TPS, or temporary protected status.
Haitians have been seeking TPS for years. It allows people to live temporarily in the U.S. when their own countries have become unsafe because of political upheaval or natural disaster. Many thought the catastrophe in Haiti would make it more likely for Haitians to gain TPS. But local leaders, like Marleine Bastien of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition, became infuriated today when the Obama administration stopped deportations of undocumented Haitians but made no mention of TPS.
"Temporary protected status is given to nationals whose countries have been victims of both natural and political disasters," Bastien says. "Haiti has been a victim of both."
The earthquake is just the latest disaster to befall the country. In 2008, four hurricanes struck Haiti. Community activist Lucie Tondreau says Haiti recovered from the storms. But just barely.
"We went there on a relief mission in the country. It was amazing the strength the people were gathering together to rebuild what they had lost," Tondrea says. "And we [are] just wondering right now how much strength is left in the spirit of the Haitians that are in Haiti right now. Because it has been just too much."