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For NYC Haitians, anxiety and mourning in quake's wake

NEW YORK – Guy Francois' eyes welled up with tears as he spoke about his three children in Port au Prince, the Haitian capital devastated by a huge earthquake.

"No contact at all. Nobody. I can't get in touch with nobody," said the 55-year-old cab driver. "I've been crying since last night. I don't know what happened. I don't know what's going on with my kids." 

In the wake of the poverty-struck Caribbean nation's worst earthquake in over 200 years, residents of New York's "Little Haiti" community are grimly holding out hope and praying for their loved ones. But with virtually all communication lines down, most can do nothing but bide their time and wait for news.

Image: A woman is comforted as she prays for the victims of an earthquake that hit Haiti at St Jerome's Church in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn
Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters
A woman is comforted as she prays for the victims of an earthquake that hit Haiti at St. Jerome's Church in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New York on Wednesday.

Francois, who has lived in the United States for 23 years, said his children in Haiti are 29, 27 and 15 years old. Despite his best efforts, he has not been able to contact any of them.

It was a story shared by many others of Haitian descent in Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood. Besides watching television in an effort to glean information about family and friends based on locales indentified in news reports, they had almost no information about the fate of their loved ones.

Francois said he stayed up all night in front of his TV. "It's terrible. If I could get in touch with them, I'd feel better. But no contact," he said as he stood in the bitter cold outside the dispatch station for the Fast City Car & Limo Service. Many of the company's drivers are Haitian, about eight of whom were jammed into a small room drinking coffee and sharing stories. "Everyone has the same problem," he said.

For some who had heard from loved ones the news was grim. Pierre Julian, 43, who shares a cab with Francois – they split driving the same cab in 12-hour shifts – said he received a phone call from his mother-in-law saying that his wife had died in the quake. "That's life," he said grimly.

Image: Jude Saintphard
John Makely / msnbc.com
Jude Saintphard, 71, in the "Botanica Du Roi Salomon" religious goods store in Brooklyn N.Y., reacts to the news out of Haiti a day after the earthquake. 

Prayers of hope
Down the block at Botanica Du Roi Salomon, a religious goods story, owner Mary Louis, 61, and her friend Jude Saintphard, 71, were also waiting for word from loved ones.

"Right now we are on our knees begging the whole world for help," said Saintphard.

"We wonder why the country deserves such misery," said Louis, reflecting upon Haiti's history of political upheaval and natural disasters.  

"It was bad before," said Saintphard. "But now there is nothing left."

The shop sells religious statuaries, prints of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, incense, frankincense, myrrh, and candles from such religious figures as High John the Conqueror, a local folk hero whose candle says he is the "Conqueror over all evil conditions."

Louis said she is praying for her fellow Haitians. "We hope for better days. It is such a nice country. It is warm all year. We used to eat all natural foods…. Now those things are all gone."

Image:
Seth Wenig / AP
Friends and neighbors gather around a computer seeking news from Haiti in Savoir Faire, a Haitian record store, in New York, on Wednesday. 

No words to explain
Jean-Claude Michele, 41, the pastor for the Faithful Church of God in Brooklyn, said he had received dozens of calls from members of his church, but that most people could not reach Haiti.

"We don't really have any words to explain what happened," Michelle said. "We can only pray and organize with one voice and one plan ahead."

"We have been going through tough times throughout Haiti's history," he added. "If it's not political unrest, it's natural disasters. It's not that we are used to it, but maybe God built us that strong and with purpose. Hopefully things will change and destruction will also help us restructure the country."

He said he hoped that the U.S., Canada, France and some of the world's other large countries would help Haiti. For his part, he said, he was planning to solicit donations of money, as well as medicine and other goods to send to Haiti. He said he would go to Haiti himself, if possible, to help deliver the goods.   

Click here for more Haiti coverage:
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Timeline: A history of Haiti