Local Haitians offer relief, wait for news
Published Wednesday, January 13, 2010 5:19PM EST
The Haitian-Montreal community is desperately seeking information from family and friends in Haiti while scrambling to provide relief effort after a devastating earthquake has tumbled the Caribbean nation into chaos.
A powerful earthquake Tuesday flattened countless buildings in the impoverished country. Hundreds of thousands are rumoured to be dead, while untold numbers are still trapped.
At Haitian community centre Maison d'Haiti in St. Michel, Marjorie Villefranche is holding her breath, waiting on news from relatives.
"This is what we were afraid of, getting bad news. Hour after hour and I'm afraid the whole day will be like this," she said.
Villefranche is not alone. Montreal is home to nearly 86,000 people who describe themselves as Haitian, making up 90 per cent of Canada's Haitian diaspora.
Family members are trying desperately to reach loved ones in Haiti via cell phones, and social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, largely to no avail.
"The lines are dead, there's no connection at all, either we get no dial tone or it says the line is not in service," said Asma Heurtelou, host of a Haitian radio show in Montreal, and whose daughter has been trying to use social media to contact family in Haiti.
Montreal Canadiens forward Georges Laraque has had no news from family in the disaster area.
"How can you have a complaint about anything in life, about hockey about criticism, when there are people battling for their life right now that are probably stuck underneath? It's pretty hard right now," said Laraque.
Foreign Affairs has opened phone lines for Canadians who need information from Haiti.
That number is 1-800-387-3124.
Local relief effort
As they wait for news, Montrealers are pitching in to provide relief efforts to the impoverished nation.
Carlos Castaneda is preparing to board a plane to Haiti with a church aid group called
While he's been there before, Castaneda said he knows this time will be much more difficult.
"It will take a long time...it will take a lot of help and support," he said.
Meantime, phones are ringing non-stop at the Centre for International Studies and Co-Operation offices, call after call from people wanting to lend support.
Priorities are clean water, food and shelter said Quebec entertainer and CECI spokesperson Luck Mervil.
Cash donations are the best form of support, he said.
"We're not asking people to give food or coats or things like that. The cash donations are the best things that people can give right now," said Mervil.
At the same time, Liberal MP Denis Coderre said it's important people donate to valid organization and be aware of fraudsters looking to profit off the tragedy.
"It's a disgrace. Already at 9 (this morning), I received some phone calls from my constituents who are saying that they received some solicitation for cash. I mean, don't fall to that," he cautioned.
Instead, said Coderre, donate to reputable organizations and refuse anyone who solicits funds over the phone.
CECI is organizing a benefit concert next Thursday featuring a star-studded roster of Quebec entertainers. Details to follow.