Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[LINK] "Earthquake worries Haitian Montrealers"

Haitians of the "tenth departement"--the Haitian diaspora--are reacting to the catastrophe in their homeland, and including this department's Canadian residents, in Toronto, for instance.

Unable to contact loved ones as darkness fell over the earthquake zone, frantic Haitians across Toronto and Canada turned to each other for any scrap of hope.

"We're all worried, we're all calling each other in Montreal, in New York and even Florida trying to find out anything about cousins in Petionville where the earthquake hit," said Tonia Dyer, who moved to Canada from Haiti 40 years ago.

The earthquake severed most lines of communication with the battered island, making it hard to determine the damage and virtually impossible to reach family and friends.

"It's so frustrating. I heard a hospital collapsed in Petionville but I can't get through to my cousin," said Dyer, whose relative lives in the same 100-year-old wooden house in which she grew up.

"This earthquake happened ... just as night was falling. It would be jet black on the streets. I can't imagine the confusion."

Dyer and other Haitian-Canadians called Eric Pierre, Haiti's honorary consul general in Toronto, when news of the earthquake broke Tuesday afternoon. Frustrated at not knowing if his brother in Port-au-Prince was safe, Pierre, a dentist, said he hoped to be able to announce a community relief effort by Wednesday morning.

The disaster arguably made a bigger impact in Montréal.

"The situation is catastrophic, everyone is in shock," said Jean-Ernest Pierre of Montreal community radio station CPAM.

Pierre said he was able to speak to a cousin living in Port-au-Prince for only a few moments before the line was cut.

Pierre said his cousin told him the ground seemed to shake for three to five minutes.

Tuesday evening the radio station was inundated with calls from concerned members of the community.

In the fall of 2008, members of Montreals Haitian community joined together to provide relief for the country after it was struck by hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike.

Pierre said it is too soon to say how the community will respond to this disaster.

"For now we are trying to keep ourselves informed, but it isnt easy," Pierre said.

Many people have been unable to reach their family members, including Haitian-born actress Fabienne Colas, whose father still lives in the Caribbean nation.

"My heart is kind of beating so hard now because anything can happen," said Colas, who is also president of the Montreal Black Film Festival.

"It is so sad for us and I think tonight the whole Haitian community here in Montreal and everywhere else will maybe not sleep at all," Colas said. "How can you sleep at all when you have your family over there and you cannot reach them?"

Almost 90% of the one hundred thousand Haitian-Canadians live in Québec, mostly in Montréal, attracted by that province's efforts to recruit Francophone immigrants from the 1960s on.

Canada as a whole has stronger ties that one might expect with Haiti, based on shared Francophone identities, migration, and aid links, Canada's Governor-General Michaëlle Jean being herself Haitian-born. Canada's emergency response is on its way as I type.
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