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St. John’s student plans help for Haiti

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The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti Jan. 12 hit home for many New York City residents with roots in Haiti.

But it was an all-encompassing travesty catastrophe for Andrew Lucas, 27, a first-year computer science and business student at St. John’s University who lost 10 family members to the disaster.

Now he is creating good from the tragedy with a number of different undertakings to help the millions of Haitians affected by the quake.

A Brooklyn native and resident, he served in the U.S. Navy as an electronics specialist for the past seven years, visiting more than 20 countries and tending to the victims of the tsunami that ravaged a number of southeast Asian nations in 2004.

Currently a member of the Navy Reserve, he is forming a unit of Haitian-American Reservists to go to the island nation and use their disaster relief abilities and language skills to help victims in ways that many other groups may not be able to.

Lucas lost seven members of his family almost instantly when the quake hit and destroyed their homes with them inside. But the hardest loss for him and his kin to deal with has been the deaths of three of his young cousins, all girls under the age of 16, who apparently suffered for days before suffocating in their partially destroyed home.

“People were digging people out with their own hands, they went to other houses that were more damaged or reduced to rubble first, so they didn’t get to my cousins,” he said.

Lucas is now in touch with his family members through Facebook as he has been since the quake hit, and he has sent money to a cousin who is still in Haiti.

“All the phones were down, the only way we could communicate was we were chatting on Facebook,” he recounted. “So I’m on Facebook at like 3 in the morning asking, ‘Yo, you got food, you got that?’ You never would’ve thought you’d be on Facebook talking to your cousin about a disaster he’s in.”

Of his remaining family still in Haiti, Lucas said only one cousin and aunt were able to come to America because they were the only ones whose passports and identification documents were not destroyed.

He is also helping Haiti through his love of writing. Before the quake hit, he said he was already in the process of writing a book of short stories and poetry on the topic of loss. Now the book is lined up to be published this summer and $4 to $5 from every book sold will be donated to relief efforts.

And he optimistic about the future of Haiti.

“What I hope happens is that aid continues, that it’s not a phase,” he said. “Water, medical supplies, things that you might find at a convenience store — that’s stuff they definitely need.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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