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Kentuckians try to reach out to friends, family working in Haiti

Someone in the small group of people traveling with Connie Riddell's husband an hour outside of Port-au-Prince sent a text message home to Kentucky around 7:30 Tuesday night.

Everyone was fine, it read.

No one has heard from that group of Frankfort church members since.

Jody Castillo, who was in the mountains 150 miles outside the capital city of Haiti, heard from her husband, Jose, who was in Port-au-Prince just after the quake in which untold thousands may have perished.

He said he was OK; then he described the utter horror he was witnessing. The Castillos cried together about the fate of their adopted island nation.

Jody hasn't heard from Jose since.

Aramis Remilien tried calling the same numbers over and over, "but I never got through." While praying someone would pick up the phone at his house in Port-au-Prince, Remilien watched TV to see if he could catch a glimpse of his neighborhood. "I can see people have died. I cannot figure out where," he said.

The Rev. Ron Luckey, pastor of Lexington's Faith Lutheran Church, spent Thursday working his friends, acquaintances, Twitter and Facebook in an effort to hear some word of four 20-year-old students who work for Grace Orphanage, a home and school for 200 children in northeast Haiti.

Luckey said he is hearing "it is 10 times worse than the news can describe it. I understand Port-au-Prince is just gone."

Riddell, Castillo and Luckey all know Haiti intimately because of their desire to spread the Christian gospel there.

Still, faith did not keep them or hundreds of other Kentuckians who have family or friends in Haiti from something close to despair Wednesday. Central Kentucky-based non-profit Ten Kids, which provides 10 children in Haiti with a safe home, three meals a day, clean drinking water, clothes, access to medical care and an education, posted this: "As of 4:30 p.m. (Wednesday) we still have no news about the kids, please keep them in your prayers. We have been calling all afternoon and cannot get through."

Wife waits for word

"I can't imagine the Lord would do anything but protect them," Riddell said of the mission workers from Frankfort. "They were there for the right reasons."

Still, Riddell said of her husband, Doug, 68, "I would like to hear his voice." Connie Riddell waited by the phone, watching CNN throughout the night and all day Wednesday.

Other news from the Haitian Needy Children's Foundation, which works out of Capital City Christian Church, has been more promising. A Facebook entry from Clinton Hall, the children's minister based in Jacmel, 50 miles south of Port-au-Prince, read simply: "We are OK. Scariest moment of my life. Things here are really bad. Not sure if or when we'll be able to get out. Roads are closed. Houses and buildings are smashed. Pray for the people of Haiti!"

Everybody was reassured by a follow-up satellite phone call from Hall at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday, when the church membership had gathered to pray, said Capital City Christian associate minister Jon Sutphin.

Except Connie Riddell. On Monday she spoke to her husband, and he said he'd be driving around the area to visit with another missionary. It is his ninth trip to the region in 15 years.

Haitian Needy Children's Foundation is one of three missions he helps. It is the one nearest to the family's heart, Connie said. That's because it was founded by the very industrious Raymonde Jacques in 1996, years after Jacques had come to this country to live with the Riddells and their daughter, who has cerebral palsy.

"He knows who the good people are there," said Connie. "He always comes home from there saying it does more for you than you do for them."

Sutphin said the 15 volunteers were slated to return home Thursday, but that plan is obviously on hold as church members try to figure a way to get them out.

"We're reaching out to the governor's office, to the National Guard, to Ben Chandler and Mitch McConnell, to pave a way for that," Sutphin said.

Then, he said, when everyone was safe, they'd figure out how to go back to Haiti to help.

Aramis Remilien plans to be close behind. He is sure now that his family did not survive the devastation.

"We need to try to go see," the Haitian-born man said. "I don't know if it's safe, but I can't wait to get there."

'Strong aftershocks'

Jody Castillo e-mailed Wednesday afternoon that she had not heard from husband, Jose, for 18 hours. She had heard from him via land line Tuesday after the quake. He explained that he was in a hotel near the airport and had been spared.

"He thought that our home had crumbled just like the ones in Port-au-Prince. They still feel strong aftershocks. He begged me to take the family outside to sleep. He doesn't realize that what he saw isn't the same that we feel."

She wrote that her husband, a native New Yorker, compared the rubble and smoke and confusion to the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.

"The smoke from the concrete covers the air, and you can barely breathe in some areas. ... Women were looking for their children, and everyone had cuts and sores. Jose said one guy was hollering out in pain — laying on the street as he lost his leg when his home fell. Blood covered most of the people on the street, and limbs were sticking out of concrete where they tried to run but couldn't make it."

Jody explained the medical mission she is attached to will be sending a team of workers into the city Thursday. They spent Wednesday collecting supplies. "They begged for us to come, and we couldn't turn them away."

Everyone there is somber, she reported. Of the nearly 300 employees at the medical facility, almost all have family in Port-au-Prince.

"Many have children and parents there. The zones that they live in are the hardest hit zones. With no cell phone service. Everyone can only predict that they are dead."

What has happened, Jody wrote, "will change every zone in Haiti forever. All over Haiti, people will struggle to survive. There is no doubt that food prices will rise and diesel will be hard to get."

Even so soon after the terror and devastation, she is resolved not to come home.

"How can I tell people, 'God is with you' and then say, 'see you later?' I was here during the coup several years ago. All the Americans left. My family stayed. I will not leave them. We have three Haitian kids of our own, and how could we desert our Haitian family? I remember when the rebels came to the mission with guns wanting diesel. I very confidently put a pistol on my hip, carried a shotgun over each shoulder and went outside the gate. They laughed. Here is an American girl packed and loaded. I told them, 'You take our diesel and we can't run our medical clinics, and people will die, and I will tell them you caused it.' They smiled and said, 'OK, lady, you win,' and walked away. Later our orphanage was in trouble, and those same guys went and rescued them. You see even the bad guys are really good guys at heart."

She says she is emotionally drained but not scared. She wonders where her husband is, whether he is safe, whether he is working his way back to St. Louis du Nord.

"My heart cannot take the sorrow that our staff feel, and I carry that burden with them," she said.