Floods raise fears for boro Caribbeans

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"People are saying the situation is critical, very bad," 54-year-old Ramon Zayas said about the Dominican Republic, where he had lived until he moved to the United States 17 years ago. "It seems that every day there are more dead."

Official estimates put the toll at 2,000 fatalities, but the final devastation will not be known for days since the area affected is remote and has been cut off by mud slides. Fields and homes have been destroyed on the Caribbean island, and it is feared disease will spread from dead bodies.

While incomes are low in both countries, Haiti suffers from the worst poverty in the Western Hemisphere and is gripped by political uncertainty after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled an armed uprising.

"I don't think it's a good time," Shubert Denis, 49, said as he sat in his Haitian restaurant, Porto-Prince Star, Friday in Cambria Heights. "Haiti already has its own problems."

More than 40,000 Haitians live in southeast Queens, while about 45,000 Dominicans reside in the borough, concentrated mainly in Corona.

As torrential rains pummeled the southern part of the mountainous border between their two countries beginning May 24, people in Queens from both nations crowded around radios and televisions to receive news updates and tried desperately to reach friends and family back home. But even if they did not know someone specifically from the affected area, Dominicans and Haitians said they felt sorrow.

"We're all united in pain because we're all brothers," Zayas said inside of Adonai Church on Northern Boulevard and 99th Street in Corona, which he attends.

"It's not even a nation, it's a family," Denis said. "This is the way I think about it."

Dominicans showed their concern and generosity at Adonai Church Friday, where church leaders and state Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights), a politician of Dominican heritage, organized a daylong contribution drive.

Food and clothing represented most of the donations, but organizers said medicine and water were also needed. Contributions are still being accepted at the church. The pastor, Frank Almonte, stressed that a church delegation would accompany the donations to ensure they go to the proper place and do not fall into corrupt hands.

North American Airlines, a cargo handler based out of Kennedy Airport, has pledged to transport the supplies for free, while Monumental Shipping on Astoria Boulevard in East Elmhurst has volunteered to take donations by sea.

Peralta said he hopes to soon visit the Dominican Republic and plans to organize a benefit concert in the coming weeks with the Hispanic Federation for relief aid.

At Adonai Church, Marisol Perez, a Dominican living in Fresh Meadows, said she had taken the day off from work to volunteer after hearing about the flooding, although none of her relatives appeared directly affected.

"I was moved by it," she said, noting that Dominican and Haitian communities in Queens appeared to be working separately but toward the same goal. "Individually, on a personal basis, I think everyone is doing something for the cause."

In southeast Queens, the non-profit group Haitian-Americans United for Progress on Linden Boulevard and 221st Street in Cambria Heights has begun coordinating relief efforts for its country. The organization is primarily seeking monetary donations but has also set up collection bins at its office, staff members said.

Haitians in the community were eager to help and asked fellow Americans and the U.S. government to do the same.

"I'm standing anxious and ready and willing to do whatever I can," said Denis, whose cousin lives in the part of Haiti hit by the flooding but who is all right. "I will send whatever I have to give them help."

International experts believe helping Haiti will be harder because the country's infrastructure is less developed than its neighbor and it suffers from extreme poverty. This week U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), who represents southeast Queens, called on the American government and its citizens to aid the relief effort.

Denis said the situation was dire. "The only thing I can ask is don't sleep on it," he said of donations. "They need everything and anything."

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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