Queens mounts relief effort

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Queens leaders, residents and organizations were gathering supplies and rallying manpower to send to Haiti to help the victims ravaged by last week’s 7.0 earthquake in the Caribbean island nation.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined Borough President Helen Marshall, southeast Queens elected officials and community leaders at the Haitian Americans United for Progress office in Cambria Heights last Thursday.

The nonprofit, in the heart of the borough’s Haitian community, has been working overtime to connect Haitian New Yorkers with their loved ones in the disaster area.

“Yesterday we spent the whole day on the phones,” said HAUP worker Yolette Lochard.

Estimates on the death toll from the quake, which destroyed buildings all over the capital city of Port-au-Prince, range up to more than 200,000 with thousands more injured.

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, has a history of shoddy construction; inadequate public services for water, telephone and electricity; and terrible roads. These conditions pose obstacles to the international rescue effort, which was being mounted around the world.

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 was 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.

The United States has deployed more than 11,000 armed forces to the area, according to the Associated Press, and has sent Navy ships, helicopters and other military vehicles to join the international rescue and relief efforts.

The city Office of Emergency Management sent a team consisting of 80 FDNY and NYPD officers to assist with the recovery efforts.

“It is challenging because we have a total collapse of infrastructure. There are people alive there, and we’ll get as many as we can,” OEM Commissioner Joe Bruno said.

The New York team saved a 13-year-old girl who was trapped in what was left of a grocery store in Port-au-Prince and a 56-year-old man who was rescued from the rubble of a four-story building.

State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) also went to Haiti Friday and noted New York’s government has always lent its hand to nation during previous disasters.

“We want the Haitian community to know we stand in solidarity with them,” Smith said.

Among the other groups heading to the island is one made up of some 40 Haitian doctors. The physicians, who live in Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island, arrived in Haiti Saturday onboard a jet loaned by Forest Hills-based airline JetBlue and will be carrying food, clothing and water donated by the office of City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton).

“With a devastation of this magnitude, anything that can be shipped to them is beneficial,” said Louis Nelson, a Haitian-American electrical engineer who helped to organize the flight.

HAUP Executive Director Elsie Saint-Louis Accilien warned residents to be careful on what supplies they donate. Since the roads and infrastructure are severely damaged, she said the best thing rescue teams could use is money instead of items such as clothing and electronics.

“If there is anything you can hold on to, we can take it later,” she said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Updated 5:44 pm, October 10, 2011
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