QUEENS FEELS HAITI TREMORS: Humanitarian disaster mobilizes borough

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As Queens wept for Haiti,thousands in the borough tried desperately to contact their loved ones while others mounted efforts to raise funds nearly a week after a massive earthquake changed life forever in the impoverished island nation.

At Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Queens Village, where there is a sizable Haitian population, children in the parish school wrote down prayers on sheets of paper Tuesday for relatives both dead and alive.

Sister Josephine Barbieri, principal of Our Lady of Lourdes, said some 50 family members of the students either are dead, alive or unaccounted for in Haiti following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that demolished whole sections of the capital and neighboring areas Jan. 12.

A separate list from church members identified about 60 family members affected by the earthquake. A white poster board hung in the church for people to write down prayers.

During collections Sunday, the church raised $8,000 for Haiti.

Planes flying from the United States and around the world have been delivering water, food and other aid to the poorest country in the Western Hemipshere and, but some of Queens’ Haitian emigrés said those supplies were not reaching their family members.

Marie S. Cothia, a 33-year-old Laurelton resident and nurse who has signed up to go to Haiti as a volunteer, said family in Haiti told her food prices have skyrocketed.

“It’s like a black market right now for food, water and shelter,” she said.

At least 15,000 U.S. military troops arrived on the island to keep order and the NYPD pulled out at least four people from the rubble in Port-au-Prince.Haitian President Rene Preval has warned that as many as 200,000 people may have died in the quake.

As 40 Haitian doctors from Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island rushed to Haiti to save the dying and injured, some 50 Haitian workers at a candy factory in Rockaway awaited word on whether family members had survived the tembler.

Queens Village barber Joseph Loiseau came to New York in 1997 from Haiti and has been sending money to his family back home. With telecommunications crippled, he had not been able to reach the 13-year-old daughter and four siblings whom he left behind as of press time Tuesday.

“It won’t get better until I get to hear from my family %u2026. I have nobody really over here,” Loiseau said.

There are 34,699 Haitians living in Queens, comprising 1.5 percent of the borough’s population, out of an estimated 125,000 to 150,000 around the city, according to the latest Census figures. Queens’ Haitians mainly live in Cambria Heights, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and Laurelton.

Gov. David Paterson said he launched an online registry of New York citizens in Haiti that will be used to locate them.

President Barack Obama announced that Haitians in the United States will receive temporary protected status following the earthquake, meaning they will not be deported if they were pegged for deportation. It also allows Haitians living in America to continue living and working here for the next 18 months.

Much of the borough’s aid efforts were being coordinated by Haitian Americans United for Progress, a Cambria Heights nonprofit that has been helping Queens Haitians make contact with loved ones and collecting monetary donations.

Numerous other drives have been created throughout the borough.

Several dozen people gathered at New York Buddhist Vihara, a predominantly Sri Lankan Buddhist temple on the border of Oakland Gardens and Queens Village Sunday night for a prayer service for Haiti and to organize a collection of medical supplies and money.

Shanthi Ranasinghe, one of the temple’s members, said that after the congregation helped relief efforts following the South Asian tsunami in 2004, they wanted to now lend a hand to Haiti.

Flushing’s Asian community donated $3,000 to the relief effort.

Amid the stories of death, destruction and hopelessness, one Queens family went from fearing the worst to elation.

South Ozone Park resident Dr. Augustine Delante could not contact his brother, Frantz Gilles, who worked in a Port-au-Prince government building, for four days after the structure collapsed.

“It was four days .... I thought he was dead,” Delante said.

On Saturday afternoon, Delante received a call from his uncle that Gilles was rescued from the rubble of the capital’s tax collection building. Many others trapped in the structure did not survive.

“You can’t imagine what it was like. It was joy ... happiness. Everyone was crying,” he said.

Ivan Pereira, Christina Santucci and Connor Adams Sheets contributed reporting.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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