Haitian-Canadians fear for their loved ones after powerful quake hits Haiti - Metro US

Haitian-Canadians fear for their loved ones after powerful quake hits Haiti

Haitian-Canadians were scrambling to reach their loved ones in Haiti Tuesday night after a devastating earthquake rocked the capital of Port-au-Prince, where buildings have collapsed and many are feared dead.

Phone lines were down and electricity was out after the earthquake, the largest to hit Haiti in more than 200 years, making it hard to get a full picture of the extend of the damage.

Fabienne Colas, a Montreal resident of Haitian origin, said she was desperately trying to reach her family there but had not been able to.

“It’s frustrating. The lines are either busy or ringing without answer” she said.

“I think tonight almost all the Haitian people (in Montreal) are going to stay up trying to reach our people and hopefully find them,” Colas told The Canadian Press in an interview.

There are more than 100,000 Canadians of Haitian origin living in Canada, most of them in Quebec.

Jean-Claude Icart, also from Montreal, said Tuesday night he was able to talk to his family, just outside the capital, minutes after the earthquake struck.

He said their houses were damaged but they were OK and his family had suffered no loss of life.

“There’s panic in the streets. People are afraid to go back to their homes because of the aftershocks,” he said.

Icart said his family told him the presidential palace, a strong state symbol in the country, had collapsed.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said about 6,000 Canadians are believed to be living and working in Haiti but there were no initial reports of any Canadians injured.

As reports of the devastation started to emerge, communities across Canada that had members volunteering in the island nation struggled to find out about their fate.

A group of 56 people from central Ontario, on a church-sponsored mission to Haiti, were reported to be fine Tuesday night.

The volunteers, including Gwen Gilbert, mayor of South Bruce Peninsula, arrived in the country a week ago to help a local mission operate a school, church, orphanage and medical clinic in Aubry, just north of the capital.

There were reports that many buildings collapsed, including a hospital where people were heard screaming for help. The hospital is in Petionville, a hillside Port-au-Prince district that is home to many diplomats and wealthy Haitians.

The headquarters of the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti also sustained “serious damage” and the UN peacekeeping chief, Alain Le Roy, said a large number of UN personnel are unaccounted for.

A Department of National Defence spokeswoman said five Canadians are attached to the UN mission in Haiti. There has been no communication from them.

Cannon said the Canadian Embassy in the capital has been evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada stands ready to provide any necessary assistance to the people of Haiti “during this time of need.”

He said Canada is home to a large community of Canadians of Haitian decent and “our thoughts and prayers are with them as they seek word about the safety of their loved ones.”

Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean, who’s of Haitian origin, said the natural disaster has hit “a country with an extremely fragile infrastructure, where many buildings are already unstable.”

“I would like all Haitians to know that they are not alone and that the people of Canada will respond to this emergency.”

“We’re hoping that there’s no loss of life,” she said in a statement.

Icart said he hoped the aid will be better structured and organized than two years ago when the country was hit by two hurricanes.

Two much stuff was collected, including stuff that could not be used in Haiti. I hope that this time people there will receive money and volunteers instead, he said.

Jeff Adams, director of communications at Samaritan’s Purse Canada, an international Christian relief and development organization based in Calgary, said they are already sending help.

He said they were flying in a disaster team to look at what’s needed but expects that food, clean water and supplies to build shelters will be needed immediately.

He said the homes in the area are flimsy and will likely be demolished by a quake.

Most of Haiti’s nine million people are desperately poor, and after years of political instability the country has no real construction standards.

The country is the largest recipient of Canadian long-term development assistance in the Americas and the second largest in the world.

And a number of Canadians government agencies as well as the Department of National Defence and the RCMP have a presence in Haiti.

Cannon said Canadian officials are talking with “trusted humanitarian partners” in the country to try and determine what can be done.

“We have close links with Haiti and are ready to help,” he said in Ottawa.

He said Defence Department officials are also evaluating the situation and looking at what equipment is available to help.

“We will make the appropriate decisions and the necessary calls to make sure that Canada does step up as we have done in the past with Haiti,” said Cannon in response to questions on whether the rapid disaster relief team DART would be sent to the country.

Cannon said friends and family of Canadians in Haiti can call emergency operations centre in Ottawa 1-800-387-3124 for assistance.

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